Deuteronomy 25:3
Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then your brother should seem vile to you.
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Deuteronomy 25:3. Forty stripes he may give him — The law of Moses very wisely limited the number of stripes, lest severe judges should order delinquents to be lashed to death, as was often done among the Romans, than which, perhaps, a more cruel kind of death can hardly be devised. And it seems not to have been superstition, but prudent caution, in the Jews, when they would not exceed thirty-nine stripes, lest, through mistake or forgetfulness, they should go beyond the bounds which they were commanded to keep. Thy brother should seem vile — Lest the judges, by exceeding the bounds of humanity, and that compassion which was due to a brother, a partaker of human nature in common with themselves, and one of the same nation and community, civil and religious, should be accustomed to think despicably of their poor brethren, and set their lives at naught. Or lest he should be made contemptible to his brethren, either by this cruel usage of him, as if he were a brute beast; or by some deformity or infirmity of body, which excessive beating might produce.25:1-3 Every punishment should be with solemnity, that those who see it may be filled with dread, and be warned not to offend in like manner. And though the criminals must be shamed as well as put to pain, for their warning and disgrace, yet care should be taken that they do not appear totally vile. Happy those who are chastened of the Lord to humble them, that they should not be condemned with the world to destruction.The Jews to keep within the letter of the law fixed 39 stripes as the maximum (compare the marginal reference.). Forty signifies the full measure of judgment (compare Genesis 7:12; Numbers 14:33-34); but the son of Israel was not to be lashed like a slave at the mercy of another. The judge was always to be present to see that the Law in this particular was not overpassed. 2, 3. if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten—In judicial sentences, which awarded punishment short of capital, scourging, like the Egyptian bastinado, was the most common form in which they were executed. The Mosaic law, however, introduced two important restrictions; namely: (1) The punishment should be inflicted in presence of the judge instead of being inflicted in private by some heartless official; and (2) The maximum amount of it should be limited to forty stripes, instead of being awarded according to the arbitrary will or passion of the magistrate. The Egyptian, like Turkish and Chinese rulers, often applied the stick till they caused death or lameness for life. Of what the scourge consisted at first we are not informed; but in later times, when the Jews were exceedingly scrupulous in adhering to the letter of the law and, for fear of miscalculation, were desirous of keeping within the prescribed limit, it was formed of three cords, terminating in leathern thongs, and thirteen strokes of this counted as thirty-nine stripes (2Co 11:24). Not exceed: it seems not superstition, but prudent caution, when the Jews would not exceed thirty-nine stripes, 2 Corinthians 11:24, lest through mistake or forgetfulness or eagerness they should go beyond their bounds, which they were commanded to keep, but they were not obliged to go to the utmost extent of them. Thy brother, who, though faulty and chastised, yet still is thy brother by nation, and probably by religion too.

Should seem vile unto thee, i.e. should be made contemptible to his brethren, either by this cruel usage of him, as if he were a slave or brute beast; or by the deformity or infirmity of body which excessive beating might produce. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed,.... And that this number might not be exceeded, it is ordered by the Jewish canons that only thirty nine should be given; for it is asked (b),"with how many stripes do they beat him? with forty, save one, as it is said, in number "forty" that is, in the number which is next to forty;''this they make out by joining the last word of Deuteronomy 25:2 with the first of this; and that this was an ancient sense of the law, and custom upon it, appears by the execution of it on the Apostle Paul; who was not indulged, but suffered the extremity of it as it was then understood; see Gill on 2 Corinthians 11:24; moreover, that they might not exceed this number, they used to make a scourge of three lashes, so that every strike they fetched with it was reckoned for three stripes, and thirteen of them made thirty nine; wherefore if they added another stroke, it would have exceeded the number of stripes by two:

lest if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes; they might diminish them, if a man was weak, and not able to bear them; but they might not exceed them, if a man was as strong as Samson, as Maimonides (c) says:

then thy brother should seem vile unto thee; as if he was a beast, and not a man, and much less a brother. The Targum of Jonathan is,"lest he be in danger, and thy brother be vile;''lest he be in danger of his life, and become vile, as a dead carcass; so the apostle calls dead bodies "vile bodies", Philippians 3:21; or in danger of being maimed, and becoming lame or deformed, and so be contemptible: and this punishment of beating with the Jews was not reckoned, according to their writers, reproachful, and as fixing a brand of infamy upon a person; but they were still reckoned brethren, and restored to their former dignities, whatsoever they possessed; so Maimonides (d) says,"whoever commits a crime, and is beaten, he returns to his dignity, as it is said, "lest thy brother be vile in thine eyes"; when he is beaten, lo, he is thy brother; an high priest, that commits a crime, is beaten by three (i.e. a bench of three judges, by their order), as the rest of all the people, and he returns to his grandeur; but the head of the session (or court of judicature), that commits a crime, they beat him, but he does not return to his principality, nor even return to be as one of the rest of the sanhedrim; for they ascend in holiness, but do not descend.''And yet Josephus represents it as a most infamous and scandalous punishment, as one would think indeed it should be; his words are (e), speaking of the laws concerning travellers being allowed to gather grapes, and pluck ears of corn as they passed;"he that does contrary to these laws receives forty stripes, save one, with a public scourge; a free man undergoes this most filthy (or disgraceful) punishment, because for the sake of gain he reproaches his dignity.''

(b) Misn. Maccot, c. 3. sect. 10. Vid. Buxtorf. Synagog. Jud. c. 25. p. 522, 523. (c) Hilchot Sanhedrin, c. 17. sect. 1.((d) Ibid. sect. 7, 8, 9. (e) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 21.

{c} Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.

(c) The superstition Jews later removed one, 2Co 11:24.

3. Forty stripes] By later law the number was fixed at ‘forty less one’ (Mishna,’ Makkoth,’ Deuteronomy 3:10 ff., cp. 2 Corinthians 11:24, Josephus, IV. Antt. viii. 21, 23) they were now inflicted with a lash. Ḫammurabi decrees in one case ‘sixty blows of an ox-hide scourge’ (§ 202).

thy brother should seem vile unto thee] Rather, be dishonoured (Deuteronomy 27:16), publicly (lit. to thine eyes). To give him the due punishment of his crime (Deuteronomy 25:2) was not to take away his honour as a brother, i.e. Israelite; but to flog him indiscriminately was to treat him like an animal.Directions to allow strangers, widows, and orphans to glean in time of harvest (as in Leviticus 19:9-10, and Leviticus 23:22). The reason is given in Deuteronomy 24:22, viz., the same as in Deuteronomy 24:18 and Deuteronomy 15:15.
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