Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.XXIV.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4. DIVORCE.
Some uncleanness.—Evidently mere caprice and dislike are not intended here. There must be some real ground of complaint. (See Margin.)
Let him write her a bill of divorcement.—“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives,” is the Divine comment upon this. It is a distinct concession to the weakness of Israel—not the ideal standard of the Law, but the highest which it was found practicable to enforce. (See Matthew 19:2 seq.) There are many other particular enactments in the Law of Moses of which the same thing may be said. The ideal standard of morality has never varied. There is no higher ideal than that of the Pentateuch. But the Law which was actually enforced, in many particulars fell short of that ideal.
(2) If the latter husband hate her.—Rashi says here that “the Scripture intimates that the end of such a marriage will be that he will hate her.” He makes a similar remark on the marriage with the captive in Deuteronomy 21. The result of the marriage will be a hated wife, and a firstborn son of her, who will be a glutton and a drunkard.
(4) Her former husband . . . may not take her again . . . and thou shalt not cause the land to sin.—The comment upon this, supplied by Jeremiah 3:1, is singularly beautiful. “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord.”
When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.Deuteronomy 24:5—end of Deuteronomy 25
VARIOUS PRECEPTS OF HUMANITY.
(5) He shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business.—He shall not go forth in warfare, neither shall warfare pass upon him in any form. In Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30 the service of the tabernacle is called its “warfare.”
He shall be free at home.—Literally, he shall be clear for his home; free from all charges, so as to belong to that.
No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge.(6) The nether or the upper millstone.—Literally, the two millstones, or even the upper one.
A man’s life.—Literally, a soul. This word connects the two verses (6, 7).
If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.(7) If a man be found stealing (a soul) any of his brethren . . .—See Exodus 21:16.
(8,9) Take heed in the plague of leprosy. . . . Remember what the Lord thy God did to Miriam.—The point here seems to be that though Miriam was one of the three leaders of Israel (“I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam”—Micah 6:4), yet she was shut out of the camp seven days (Numbers 12:14) when suddenly smitten with leprosy. There might be a tendency to relax the law in the case of great or wealthy persons. But this would be felt keenly by poorer lepers, who could obtain no exemption. Moses, whose own sister had suffered from the leprosy, and had been treated according to the strict letter of the law, would never consent to any relaxation of it.
The priests the Levites.—The law of leprosy was one of the laws which the “priests” in particular were ordered to administer. “Aaron looked on Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous” It seems impossible to maintain that the Levites in general are meant here. The writer evidently had personal knowledge of the case of Miriam. Had he or his first readers lived in later times, he would have explained his meaning more fully.
When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.(10-13) When thou dost lend.—The law in these verses is evidently the production of primitive and simple times, when men had little more than the bare necessaries of life to offer as security—their own clothing, or the mill-stones used to prepare their daily food, being almost their only portable property. (See Exodus 22:26-27.)
It shall be righteousness.—LXX., it shall be alms, or mercy. In other words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates:(14, 15) Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant.—So Leviticus 19:13. “The wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.” (Comp. also Jeremiah 22:13; Malachi 3:5; James 5:4.)
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.(16) The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers.—A special note of the observance of this precept by Amaziah son of Joash is noticed both in Kings and Chronicles. See marginal references. It was not observed by the Persians in the case of Daniel’s accusers (Daniel 6:24).
The case of Achan, who “perished not alone in his iniquity,” falls under a different head. See Notes on Joshua 7.
Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge:(17-22) The stranger, the fatherless, and the widow—are the subject of all the laws in these verses. For the first two (Deuteronomy 24:17-18), see Exodus 22:22-24. As to the harvest, see Leviticus 23:22. It is noticeable that this law is connected with the Feast of Pentecost in that place. Never was such care for the widow and the poor manifested as after the day of Pentecost in the New Testament. When “great grace was upon them all,” it is written that “neither was there any among them that lacked.”
In a very special way and for some special reason, all through the Old Testament, “the Lord careth for the stranger.” What the reason is, if we had the Old Testament only, we might find it hard to discover. But when we open the New Testament, we may see that this is one aspect of the love of God the Father to His Son Jesus Christ, who was one day to come among us as “a stranger,” when there was “no room for Him in the inn.” His coming hither as a stranger could not be unnoticed. And, therefore, the name and mention of the stranger all through the Old Testament is like a path strewn with flowers, in expectation of the coming of one that is greatly beloved. We see angels walking upon the earth, entertained as strangers. The wealthy patriarch, a “prince of God” among the Canaanites, confesses himself a “stranger and pilgrim on the earth.” Those that inherit the land are put in the same category, “Ye are strangers and sojourners with Me.” The stranger sits beside the Levite at Israel’s table. The second great commandment is rehearsed again for his especial benefit. “He shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.” There is only one key to all this combination of tenderness. “I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”
(18,22) Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt.—An exhortation thoroughly in place here, in the writings of Moses. In this form it occurs repeatedly in the Pentateuch, but not elsewhere. It is not the language which would naturally suggest itself to the prophets of later times.