Deuteronomy 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Against Blemished Sacrifices

This law against the use of blemished victims for sacrifice comes naturally after those forbidding the ’Asherah and Maṣṣeba, and that against child-sacrifice, Deuteronomy 12:31, for the blemished victim is not merely an irregularity but an abomination to Israel’s God, which He hateth: Deuteronomy 12:31, Deuteronomy 16:22. It is also more natural that this general law, Deuteronomy 17:1, should precede, instead of follow, the more special Deuteronomy 15:21. The legislation in J and E has no corresponding law; nor has that in P, where, however, there are frequent statements that the victim must be perfect (e.g. Leviticus 1:3; Leviticus 1:10); but H has a parallel, Leviticus 22:17-25, that gives details of the offerings, the victims and the blemishes to which the law applies; and adds the reason: it is the meat of your God.

a blemish] or fault, any ill thing; Deuteronomy 15:21 : lame or blind; Leviticus 22 : blind, broken, maimed, having sores or scurvy, mutilated, crushed or broken; a bullock or lamb with any part superfluous or lacking may do for a free-will offering, but not for a vow; Malachi 1:8 : blind, lame, sick.

abomination] See on Deuteronomy 7:25.

Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.
If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant,
2. If there be found in the midst of thee] Deuteronomy 13:1 (2): if there arise, etc.; q.v.

within any of thy gates
] Deuteronomy 13:12 (13): one of thy cities; q.v.

doeth that which is evil
, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 4:25.

in transgressing his covenant] Joshua 7:11; Joshua 7:15; Joshua 23:16 (all deuteron.). The same sin is in Deuteronomy 4:23 called forgetting the covenant. On covenant see Deuteronomy 4:13.

2–7. Against Worshippers of Other Gods

If such be found in any of thy gates, and their crime established, they shall be stoned (Deuteronomy 17:2-5); only at the mouth of two witnesses shall any one be put to death: so shalt thou burn out the evil from the midst of thee (Deuteronomy 17:6 f.).—The evil condemned is related to those which precede it by being like them one of all the abominations to Jehovah which He hateth, Deuteronomy 12:31, and the law dealing with it naturally leads up to the three in ch. 13, with which it shows some similarities of language, along with such variations as these three show among themselves. Like them it is in the Sg. throughout.

And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded;
3. gone and served other gods] So Deuteronomy 13:6; Deuteronomy 13:13 (7, 14); and 2 (3) with slight variation.

sun, moon, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 4:19.

which I have not commanded] Cp. Deuteronomy 4:19 : which thy God hath assigned unto the peoples. The use of the first person here is remarkable; God Himself takes up the speech, as in Deuteronomy 7:4 and frequently in the prophets: e.g. Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35.

And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and inquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel:
4. and it be told thee, and thou hast heard] Similarly Deuteronomy 13:12 (13).

shalt thou inquire, etc.] So, but with additions, Deuteronomy 13:14 (15), q.v.

Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.
5. thou shalt bring forth … unto thy gates] Cp. Deuteronomy 22:24 : the usual place for stoning was without the gate, so that the city might not be polluted (cp. Leviticus 24:14, Numbers 15:36); where also Stephen was stoned, Acts 7:58, under this law. On stoning see on Deuteronomy 13:10 (11).

even the man or the woman] Omit with LXX.

At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
6. At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses] So Sam. and LXX, as in Deuteronomy 19:15, where the law, here applied to a particular case, is more generally stated. Cp. P, Numbers 35:30.

The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.
7. The hand of the witnesses shall be first, etc.] Cp. Deuteronomy 13:9 (10): so they would feel more seriously the responsibility of their testimony!

so thou shalt put away the evil) burn out. See on Deuteronomy 13:5 (6).

If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;
8. If there arise a matter too hard for thee] Heb. if a matter be too wonderful (or extraordinary) for thee; cp. Deuteronomy 22:11. In Deuteronomy 1:17, and Exodus 18:22; Exodus 18:26 (E), hard translates other Heb. words.

between blood and blood] i.e. between accidental manslaughter and wilful murder, Deuteronomy 4:42, Deuteronomy 19:4 f., Deuteronomy 19:11 f.; E, Exodus 21:12-14.

between plea and plea] Probably questions of property, as in Exodus 22:1 ff., etc.

between stroke and stroke] Questions of compensation for bodily injuries, such as are defined in E, Exodus 21:18 ff.

matters of controversy within thy gates] Summary of the previous clauses—all local cases. See on Deuteronomy 12:12, Deuteronomy 16:18.

get thee up] Of resort to the Sanctuary, 1 Samuel 1:3, etc., Psalm 122:4.

the place, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 12:5.

8–13. Of the Judges of Final Appeal

Local cases too hard for the local courts (see Deuteronomy 16:18-20, on which this passage immediately follows) are to be taken before the Priests, the Levites at the Sanctuary, and the Judge of the time (Deuteronomy 17:8 f.), whose decisions must be strictly obeyed (Deuteronomy 17:10 f.); the man who presumptuously refuses to obey shall die (Deuteronomy 17:12 f.).—Sg. address. The association of a lay judge with the priests is remarkable. Because of this and because he regards Deuteronomy 17:8 b and Deuteronomy 17:9 a as doublets and Deuteronomy 17:10 and Deuteronomy 17:11 as another pair of doublets, Steuern. analyses the passage into two originally distinct laws (with editorial additions), one constituting the Priests of the Altar a court of appeal, the other recognising the Judge (i.e. the King) as the final authority. But Deuteronomy 17:8 b and Deuteronomy 17:9 a are not doublets, and although Deuteronomy 17:10 and Deuteronomy 17:11 are redundant it is impossible to discriminate in them two distinct sources. More probably the passage is intended to sanction the double practice prevailing in Israel from the earliest times, and during the monarchy, of the discharge of justice by both the priestly and the civil heads of the people. How the authority was divided is nowhere stated except in 2 Chronicles 19:8-11, which attributes to King Jehoshaphat (873–849) the institution of a double court consisting of Levites, priests, and heads of families. Over this the chief priest was set in all the matters of Jehovah, and a prince was set over it in all the King’s matters. But it is uncertain whether the passage merely reflects the procedure of justice in the Chronicler’s own day or is a genuine memory of that which prevailed under the monarchy. See the present writer’s Jerusalem, i. 379 n., 387 f.

And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment:
9. unto the priests the Levites] See on Deuteronomy 10:8, Deuteronomy 18:1. The omission of these words by LXX B is due to careless copying, and in no way supports Steuernagel’s analysis of the text into two laws (see introd. note).

unto the judge that shall be in those days] That is of course either the King, as in 2 Samuel 14:3; 2 Samuel 15:2 ff., 1 Kings 3:16 ff., or some official or officials appointed by him, 2 Samuel 15:3, and Jeremiah 26, according to which Jeremiah was tried, on the complaint of the priests, by the sarim, lay officers or princes, under the King. The plur. is thus used in Deuteronomy 19:17 : the priests and the judges which shall be in those days.

inquire] darash as in Deuteronomy 13:14, q.v.

] Heb. declare to or announce to.

sentence] Heb. word.

And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee:
10. tenor] Heb. mouth; see on Deuteronomy 1:26; Deuteronomy 1:43, Deuteronomy 9:23.

observe to do] See on Deuteronomy 5:1.

According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.
11. law] Heb. torah, usually of the directions given by priests in questions of ritual, covers here their decisions in civil cases as well. Teach, rather direct, is the vb from which Torah is derived.

And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.
12. presumptuously] See on Deuteronomy 1:43 and cp. Deuteronomy 18:20.

unto the priest … or unto the judge] Again no information is given as to how the cases are to be divided between the two. D’s sole interest is to accommodate the procedure of law to the fact of the One Altar.

that standeth to minister, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 10:8.

put away the evil] See on Deuteronomy 13:5 (6).

And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.
13. hear, and fear] Deuteronomy 13:11 (12).

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
14. When thou art come, etc.] Similarly Deuteronomy 18:9, Deuteronomy 26:1; cp. Deuteronomy 6:10, Deuteronomy 7:1.

I will set a king … like as all the nations, etc.] 1 Samuel 8:5 : make us (the same verb) a king to judge us like all the nations. Cp. 1 Samuel 12:12, where the example of the Ammonites is given as the motive of Israel’s desire, although Jehovah your God is your King. Evidently D is doubtful of the advantages of the monarchy. Like so much else in the code this law is a concession to existing facts.

14–20. Of the King

When Israel elect to have a King like other nations, he must be chosen of God, an Israelite and no foreigner (Deuteronomy 17:14 f.). He must not multiply horses, wives nor silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:16 f.). He shall write a copy of the Law and always study it, that he may fear God, with a heart not uplifted above his brethren, to the prolonging of his own and his children’s days (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Peculiar to D, and in the Sg address, except in Deuteronomy 17:16 b where unto you is due to the attraction of the Pl. in the quotation. The obvious references to Solomon and the echo of the prophet’s protests against Egyptian alliances confirm the other evidence which D furnishes for a date under the later monarchy.

Some take the law as even later than the body of the Code, because, like Deuteronomy 31:9, it represents the whole Law as written and canonical. So e.g. Cornill Einl.3 25 f. and Berth, who compares Deuteronomy 17:16 with Ezekiel 17:15 and considers Zedekiah’s reign as probable a date therefore as the Exile. But it is difficult to conceive the original Code with no law of the King; and Deuteronomy 17:16 may well have been contained in the Law-Book discovered under Josiah. For the relation of this law to the two accounts of the institution of the Kingdom in 1 Sam.—the older sympathetic (1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:16, 1 Samuel 10:27 b, 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 1 Samuel 11:15; 1 Samuel 11:13-14), and the younger hostile (1 Samuel 7:2-17; 1 Samuel 7:8, 1 Samuel 10:17-22 a, 1 Samuel 10:12) to the monarchy—see Driver’s Deut. 212 f. For the Babylonian ideals of a King see Prologue to the Code of Ḫammurabi and further Johns Bab. & Ass. Laws, etc., 192 f.

Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
15. thou shalt in any wise set] The emphatic Heb. means either thou mayest certainly, or thou shalt only, set.

thy God shall choose] So of Saul and David, 1 Samuel 9:15 f., 1 Samuel 10:24, 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:12, 2 Samuel 6:21, on which precedents D’s law seems based.

one from among thy brethren] a Hebrew, see on Deuteronomy 15:12.

thou mayest not put a foreigner, etc.] No such attempt, or temptation, on the part of Israel is recorded; the veto upon it can hardly be intended to cover, or have found its motive in, the nomination of an Israelite king by a foreign power, e.g. Zedekiah. It was this law which caused Agrippa I. to burst into tears as he remembered his Edomite origin. Contrast Cyrus as the Shepherd and the Anointed, of Jehovah—of course, in relation to Israel (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1).

But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
16. Only] Heb. raḳ, see on Deuteronomy 10:15.

he shall not multiply horses, etc.] On the horse in Israel, see Jerusalem i. 324 f. Horses came from N. to S. in W. Asia, probably from Asia Minor. Brought into Egypt by the Hyksos after 1800 b.c. they were never very common there, but the breed was excellent. (W. M. Müller, E.B. ‘Egypt,’ § 9.) By 1600 b.c. they were used in Palestine. Solomon seems to have introduced them into Israel; and they and the chariots for which they were first employed became symbolic of the strength of the N. Kingdom (2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 13:14). The prophets mention horses nearly always with war and foreign subsidies, in which the people were tempted to trust instead of in God. See Amos 4:10, Hosea 1:7; Hosea 14:3, Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 31:3, Ezekiel 17:15, of which the last three passages and probably also (because of the parallel) Hosea 14:3, identify them with Israel’s irreligious confidence in an Egyptian alliance. Hence the clause nor cause the people to return to Egypt. This does not mean that individual Hebrews were bartered for Egyptian horses (Steuern.). Like the prophets D is hostile to an Egyptian alliance, of which the clearest token would be subsidies of horses.

the Lord hath said, etc.] Not found in Exod.—Numb. ‘It is probable that as in other cases (cf. on Deuteronomy 1:22, Deuteronomy 10:1-3; Deuteronomy 10:9, Deuteronomy 17:2) the actual words were still read in some part of the narrative of JE, extant at the time when Deut. was composed’ (Driver).

Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
17. multiply wives … silver and gold] Solomon notoriously did so. His marriages with foreign princesses were for political ends, but introduced heathen cults into Israel (1 Kings 11:1, cp. 1 Kings 16:31).

And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
18. a copy of this law] Lit. a duplicate of what was before, or in charge of, the priests (Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:26). Here we have the beginning of that confidence in written revelation and the canon which brought so much good and evil to the religious life of Israel. On the mistranslation of this phrase by the LXX in the title they gave to the whole book see Introd. § 1.

And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
19. it shall be with him] Joshua 1:8.

that he may learn to fear, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 14:23.

to keep … to do] See on Deuteronomy 5:1.

That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.
20. that his heart, etc.] Cp. Deuteronomy 8:2. Turn not aside, Deuteronomy 5:32, Prolong days, Deuteronomy 4:40. Cullen (140) thinks that in mentioning Torah and Miṣwah separately in Deuteronomy 17:19-20 the writer refers to two distinct works. This is by no means clear; he may be using them here as parallel terms.

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