Deuteronomy 21:15
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:
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Deuteronomy 21:15-17. THE BIRTHRIGHT.

(15) One beloved, and another hated—i.e., one preferred above the other, according to the idiomatic use of this phrase in Hebrew.

(17) A double portion.—Literally, the mouth of two, i.e., two shares. Supposing there were four sons, the estate would be divided into five shares, and the firstborn would take two. So Jacob said to Joseph (Genesis 48:22): “I have given thee one portion above thy brethren.” The birthright of which Reuben was deprived for ill conduct, was given to Joseph’s sons (1Chronicles 5:1). So Elisha said to Elijah before they were parted. “I pray thee let a double portion (the first-born’s share) of thy spirit be upon me (2Kings 2:9).

Deuteronomy 21:15. If a man have two wives — This practice, though tolerated, is not hereby made lawful; but only provision is made for the children in that case. Hated — Comparatively, that is, less loved.

21:15-17 This law restrains men from disinheriting their eldest sons without just cause. The principle in this case as to children, is still binding to parents; they must give children their right without partiality.Moses did not originate the rights of primogeniture (compare Genesis 25:31), but recognized them, since he found them pre-existing in the general social system of the East. Paternal authority could set aside these rights on just grounds Genesis 27:33, but it is forbidden here to do so from mere partiality. 15-17. If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated—In the original and all other translations, the words are rendered "have had," referring to events that have already taken place; and that the "had" has, by some mistake, been omitted in our version, seems highly probable from the other verbs being in the past tense—"hers that was hated," not "hers that is hated"; evidently intimating that she (the first wife) was dead at the time referred to. Moses, therefore, does not here legislate upon the case of a man who has two wives at the same time, but on that of a man who has married twice in succession, the second wife after the decease of the first; and there was an obvious necessity for legislation in these circumstances; for the first wife, who was hated, was dead, and the second wife, the favorite, was alive; and with the feelings of a stepmother, she would urge her husband to make her own son the heir. This case has no bearing upon polygamy, which there is no evidence that the Mosaic code legalized. Two wives; either,

1. Both together; which practice, though tolerated, is not hereby made lawful, but only provision is made for the children in that case. Or,

2. One after another. Hated, comparatively, i.e. less loved, as Genesis 29:31 Matthew 6:24 Luke 14:26.

If a man have two wives,.... Which is supposed, but not approved of, though permitted because of the hardness of men's hearts; for it was not so from the beginning, when only one man and one woman were created, and joined together in marriage; but as it was connived at, and become customary, a law is made to prevent confusion, and preserve order in families:

one beloved and another hated; or less loved, yet continued his wife, and not divorced. Aben Ezra observes, this follows upon the former, because it is there said, that though first he had a desire to her (the captive beautiful woman), yet afterwards had no delight in her:

and they have borne him children both, the beloved and the hated; as Rachel and Leah did to Jacob, who were, the one very much beloved by him, and the other less:

and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated; or not so much beloved as the other, as was the case in the above instance.

If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another {g} hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:

(g) This declares that the plurality of wives came from a corrupt affection.

15. If a man have two wives] Cp. Jacob, Genesis 29:16 ff., Elkanah, 1 Samuel 1:2.

hated] The extreme case, but covering others such as Jacob’s Genesis 29:30 f.

15–17. Of the right of the Firstborn

If a man have two sons by different wives, one loved and one hated, and his firstborn is the son of the latter, he must not give the firstborn’s double portion to the son of the favourite.—Not in the direct address nor with any of D’s characteristic phrases; possibly therefore a previous law adopted by D, but hardly an ancient one, as it vetoes what was at least the occasional practice in early Israel. Like others it opens by putting a definite case (if there be a man, etc., cp. Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 21:22, Deuteronomy 22:2; Deuteronomy 22:6; Deuteronomy 22:13, etc.), it covers this alone, and hence is incomplete. We do not learn, e.g., whether the double portion included the family lands (Stade, Gesch. i. 392, and Buhl, Soc. Verhältn. d. Isr. 55 n. 2, think not) nor anything as to the children of concubines (cp. E, Genesis 21:10 f.).

That in early Israel the firstborn had special rights, arising probably from the sacredness attached to all firstbirths (see Exodus 13:12), is proved by the term bekorah, birthright (J, Genesis 25:34) as well as by its metaphorical application to Israel (J, Exodus 4:22, cp. Jeremiah 31:9). That the firstborn’s portion was a double one is implied the spiritual use of the phrase, in 2 Kings 2:9 (cp. Zechariah 13:8), Yet these rights were subject to the patria potestas and a firstborn might be disinherited by his father in favour of a younger son, either as in Reuben’s case because of misconduct, or as in the succession to David through the influence of a favourite wife (Genesis 49:2 ff., cp. 1 Chronicles 5:1; 1 Kings 1:2; cp. the power of a father’s blessing even when obtained by fraud, Genesis 27, or of a grandfather’s, Genesis 48). The former case is dealt with more rigorously by the next law of D, the latter is absolutely forbidden in this law. Together the two laws illustrate D’s mingled severity and equity. For later legislation on inheritance see P, Numbers 27:1-10; Num. 27:36.

On the rights of inheritance in Assyria and Babylonia see Johns, op. cit. ch. 16. He refers to instances of the division of property among brothers with reservations in favour of other members of the family, and certain powers of allotment by the eldest son, and quotes (p. 42) very early laws by which parents might disinherit their sons. This is also sanctioned, but only upon repeated misconduct, by Ḫammurabi, §§ 168 f., which legalise a father’s gifts to a favourite son over and above his equal share with his brothers in his father’s estate (§ 165), and equal rights to the children of a bondmaid with those of a wife if the father have acknowledged them as his sons (§ 170). See also §§ 28, 38 f. and a late law (Johns, p. 71) assigning one-third of a man’s estate to the children of a second marriage. On the Arab laws of inheritance see W. R. Smith, Kinship etc., 53 etc.

Verses 15-17. - If a man have two wives, one of whom is a favorite and the other disliked, and if his firstborn son be the child of the latter, he is not to allow his love for the other to prejudice the right of the son, but must allow him, both in his own lifetime and in the disposition of his property after death, the full privilege and right of a firstborn son. Deuteronomy 21:15The Right of the first-born. - Whilst the previous law was intended to protect the slave taken in war against the caprice of her Israelitish master, the law which follows is directed against the abuse of paternal authority in favour of a favourite wife. If a man had two wives, of whom one was beloved and the other hated, - as was the case, for example, with Jacob, - and had sons by both his wives, but the first-born by the wife he hated, he was not, when dividing his property as their inheritance, to make the son of the wife he loved the first-born, i.e., was not to give him the inheritance of the first-born, but was to treat the son of the hated wife, who was really the first-born son, as such, and to give him a double share of all his possession. בּכּר, to make or institute as first-born. וגו בּן על־פּני, over (by) the face of, i.e., opposite to the first-born son of the hated, when he was present; in other words, "during his lifetime" (cf. Genesis 11:28). יכּיר, to regard as that which he is, the rightful first-born. The inheritance of the first-born consisted in "a mouth of two" (i.e., a mouthful, portion, share of two) of all that was by him, all that he possessed. Consequently the first-born inherited twice as much as nay of the other sons. "Beginning of his strength" (as in Genesis 49:3). This right of primogeniture did not originate with Moses, but was simply secured by him against arbitrary invasion. It was founded, no doubt, upon hereditary tradition; just as we find in many other nations, that certain privileges are secured to the first-born sons above those born afterwards.
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