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Deuteronomy 21-23 Listen
Another heifer, but for an unsolved murder! (Deuteronomy 21:1-9)
1 If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:
2 Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:
3 And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;
4 And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley:
5 And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
6 And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley:
7 And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
8 Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.
9 So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD.
We saw a ritual involving a red heifer back in Numbers 19 (see notes) for the ceremonial cleansing of those who had touched dead bodies. This is a heifer, but not necessarily red. When a slain body is discovered, the elders of the city closest to the location of the body are obligated to bring a specially-qualified heifer to the site and slay it there with the priests by breaking her neck and offering a prayer that the blood of the slain one not be charged to the innocent people of Israel..
What a way to land a wife! (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
10 When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
11 And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
12 Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
13 And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.
14 And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
Here's an interesting law. She's a prisoner of war and now you want to marry her. According to this provision of the law, she may be taken as a wife by the Hebrew captor after she is given a full month to mourn the loss of her family. She shaves her head and pares her nails to indicate a new life as a Hebrew wife. Notice the disposition of this woman if the Hebrew husband tires of her. Before marriage as a slave, she could have been sold. After marriage, however, she must be given her freedom to go wherever she pleases. Of course, she has no family to which she may return.
The disenfranchised elder son catches a break (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)
15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:
16 Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:
17 But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
Jacob did show a partiality toward the firstborn son of Rachel (Joseph) who was actually the eleventh of twelve sons born to Jacob. This law literally protects the rights of the firstborn no matter how much you hated his mom. Ironically, had Abraham been subject to this law, he could not have blessed Isaac over Ishmael with the rights of the firstborn. Here we see a definition of firstborn rights as a "double portion of all that he hath."
Yes, parents can get some respect around here! (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
"Mom, couldn't I just go to my room without supper?" His mom replies, "Son, where you're going, you won't be needin' a supper." Yes...we're talking about the stoning to death of one's rebellious son. What age son are we talkin' here, do you suppose? Well, he'd have to be under age twenty; that's the age of manhood in Israel. How fed up with your son must you be to take these drastic measures? I'm just guessing that this punishment encouraged model behavior - just the threat ought to do it.
It is worth noting that the mandate for further investigation or other witnesses seen in Deuteronomy 13:14 (see notes) and Deuteronomy 17:4 (see notes) is not required in this instance. The word of the parents is all that is required.
Paul made reference to this verse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:
23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Galatians 3:13 (see notes) says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:" Here's the law in verses 22-23 to which Paul is making reference. Jesus literally became accursed by God as he was upon the cross redeeming the world. The hanging of a body on a tree was most often done, not as the means of death, but rather as a form of public humiliation after death. In the example given here, we know that the means of death for adultery is stoning. The Philistines did similarly with with Saul's body by hanging him on a wall after his death (I Samuel 31:1-13, see notes). Also, you may recall that the heads of the Hebrew idol worshippers were similarly placed on display before Israel in Numbers 25:1-18 (see notes).
People don't talk much about keeping these laws (Deuteronomy 22:1-12)
1 Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.
2 And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.
3 In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother’s, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.
4 Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.
5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
6 If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young:
7 But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.
8 When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.
9 Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.
10 Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.
11 Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.
12 Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.
I still find it interesting that many Christians want to enforce on others the Mosaic laws they like and disregard the rest. Here are a group of laws that are obviously culturally motivated dealing with lost property, transvestitism, treatment of birds' nests, building codes, and forbidden pairings. For people who maintain that Believers today are responsible for keeping all of the Old Testament laws, they just haven't spent much time reading the Old Testament.
Laws found here govern the following:
Hebrew law concerning betrothal and marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-30)
13 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
15 Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.
23 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
24 Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.
25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:
27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.
28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
30 A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor discover his father’s skirt.
Israel observed the practice of a legally binding period of betrothal; some period of time later (apparently, typically a year or so) the marriage would follow. This betrothal does not compare very well to our modern practice of a marriage engagement or wedding ceremony. The betrothal was a legally-binding agreement between the father and groom. This usually took place a year or more before marriage. From the time of betrothal, the woman was regarded by everyone as the lawful wife of the man to whom she was betrothed (Deuteronomy 28:30 - see notes; Judges 14:2, 8 - see notes; Matthew 1:18-21 - see notes).The marriage itself consisted basically of the consummation of the relationship. Here's the unusual part. Immediately after the first night for the newlyweds, the parents of the bride would strip the bed and hold in storage the bed sheet for future reference. If the new husband ever called into question the virginity of the bride prior to that night, the stained bed sheet served as evidence before the elders of the city. A false accusation by the husband resulted in a stiff fine, and he relinquished his right to ever divorce her. However, if her virginity previous to her wedding night could not be proved, she was stoned to death.
Verses 22-30 give us a view of the emphasis placed upon a Hebrew woman's virginity as well as the standing of their women in that society. Her virginity is treated more as the property of her father or husband rather than her own. You will notice is verses 23 and 24 that a man betrothed to a woman is called her husband.
We then see some special conditions listed with regard to whom gets stoned in the case of adultery in verses 21-30. You will notice that stoning was the associated punishment for adultery in these cases when the woman was the wife or betrothed of another, but not otherwise. If the woman was not committed to another man, the penalty was not death unless she entered a marriage under the pretense of being a virgin and it was discovered not to be so.
The prohibition of verse 30 is most likely a reference, not to one's own mother, but rather to another of one's father's wives. You will recall that Reuben took advantage of Jacob's wife, Bilhah, in Genesis 35:22 (see notes) for which he was told "thou shalt not excel" in Genesis 49:3-4 (see notes) at Jacob's death.
Self mutilators are not welcome here! (Deuteronomy 23:1-2)
1 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
A phrase is used three times in the first three verses - "shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD." That exact terminology is restricted in the Old Testament to these three verses. We do not know exactly what is meant by this phrase. Most do not feel that it is a reference to dwelling among the Israelites, although some have suggested that it means precisely that. Most agree that this phrase does, indeed, restrict one's participation in Israel's environment in matters such as serving in the military and religious activities.
It's impossible to know for certain, but verse 1 probably speaks of INTENTIONAL actions emulating the self-abusive customs of the heathen around them. Illegitimate children referenced in verse 2 would have probably been those who were born (not necessarily conceived) without both a father and mother. The "tenth-generations" rule was probably used to emphasize that God detests this practice to the point that you will NEVER have an esteemed place with Israel. This wording could mean that they were permitted to live among the Israelites, but as second-class residents not permitted to partake in some of the congregational activities.
Ammonites and Moabites? NO! (Deuteronomy 23:3-8)
3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:
4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.
5 Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee.
6 Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.
7 Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land.
8 The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the LORD in their third generation.
They should've been more helpful like the Edomites and Egyptians. We saw that Canaanites weren't welcome to live among the Hebrews, but those outside Canaan were. However, here's an exception - men from among the Ammonites and Moabites as seen in verse 3, "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever." It was because of that Balaam incident back in Numbers 22-25 (see notes). This law, however, did not forbid an Israelite man from taking a wife from among them. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew verb translated "shall not enter" (see note on phrase above) in verse 3 is masculine in gender suggesting that males only are intended to be understood here. One's heritage in Israel was determined by one's father, not one's mother. Remember Ruth? She was a Moabite from whom King David was a descendant. See the notes on the Book of Ruth for more details.
Incidentally, the Jews understood the "tenth generation" reference in verse 3 to be the equivalent of "never." That fact is seen in Nehemiah 13:1 (see notes) where this restriction was once again enforced based upon this very verse.
The Edomites and Egyptians get a pass in verse 7. However, that was not always to be the case. Later, the Edomites would get considerable negative attention from the prophets. For an overview of Israel's struggle with the Edomites over centuries, see the notes on Numbers 20:14-21. One more thing, while the Egyptians are not listed as forbidden marriages here, the returning exiles in Ezra 9 (see notes) determined that Egyptian marriages were forbidden as well.
O water closet! Where art thou? (Deuteronomy 23:9-14)
9 When the host goeth forth against thine enemies, then keep thee from every wicked thing.
10 If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp:
11 But it shall be, when evening cometh on, he shall wash himself with water: and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again.
12 Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad:
13 And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee:
14 For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.
When you gotta go, you gotta go! However, when you're fighting a war, nobody likes a messy camp! Here are some laws that regulate even that aspect of daily life. You gotta bury your business outside the camp.
Protecting escaped slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)
15 Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee:
16 He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.
Most students of the Old Testament agree that this regulation concerns a slave who has escaped from his master in some foreign land and sought refuge in Israel. We do know that, in addition to slaves captured in battle, debt slavery and voluntary slavery existed in Israel and was protected by law, so it seems unlikely that this law applies to those two categories of slaves. We simply aren't given any detail beyond these two verses.
No prostitution among the daughters of Israel! (Deuteronomy 23:17-18)
17 There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
18 Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Whoredom was not permitted among the daughters of Israel. The "price of a dog" speaks to money acquired by dishonorable means - probably referring to the male prostitute. Sodomy was absolutely forbidden in Israel.
And how about these laws (Deuteronomy 23:19-25)
19 Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:
20 Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.
22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.
23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.
24 When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel.
25 When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn.
Hebrew bankers? NO! It's tough to make an income without interest. However, one could lend to non-Hebrews with interest. And another law: Don't promise it (make a vow) if you can't keep it in verses 21-23. We find these vows dealt with in Leviticus 27 (see notes) and Numbers 30 (see notes).
And how about those poor people? Eat what you want out of the vineyard, but don't you dare carry any of it away in anything but your stomach! And regarding the corn field, only take what you can pluck by hand.
Incidentally, the Pharisees accused the disciples of Jesus of breaking the law when they gathered corn on the Sabbath day for personal consumption (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5, see notes). They accused them of reaping corn on the Sabbath. We see from this passage of scripture that doing so in the field itself was simply feeding oneself, not reaping.