Deuteronomy 22
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The precepts in these verses fairly anticipate the gospel love of one's neighbor, and even its inculcation of love to enemies (cf. Exodus 23:4, 5). Whatever authority the scribes in Christ's time imagined themselves to have for their saying, Thou shalt hate thine enemy (Matthew 5:43), they did not find it in the Law. Even towards the heathen - save in the sense in which each nation desires the destruction of its enemies in war - they were not taught to cherish feelings of bitterness and hostility. Deuteronomy 23:6 forbids seeking the welfare of Moab and Ammon, but this does not amount to hatred of these peoples (cf. Deuteronomy 2:9, 19), while the command to "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Deuteronomy 25:19) is, like the command to exterminate the Canaanites, grounded in special circumstances, and is to be regarded as exceptional. Those who express horror of the sanguinary spirit of the Mosaic code should study the precepts before us, and reflect how far the race is from having yet risen to the height of them. They forbid -

I. SECRET REJOICING IN ANOTHER'S MISFORTUNE. Such rejoicing may have its source in:

1. Enmity. The statute in Exodus particularly specifies the ox and ass of an "enemy" (Exodus 23:4). The enemy is further defined, not as one whom we hate, but as one who hates us (ver. 5). Yet if his ox, or sheep, or ass is seen going astray, we are not to hide ourselves or forbear help, but are to bring it back to him. So with all his lost property - we are to take it home and keep it for him. Or, if his ass fall under a burden, we are to help him to lift it up. How natural the disposition to act otherwise! No one knows that we have seen the stray beast. We may reason that we are not bound to interfere. A secret joy, even, may steal into our minds at the thought of an enemy's misfortune. The Law taught the Israelite to think and act very differently. It gave him the lesson of forgiving injuries, of loving enemies, of returning good for evil.

2. Envy. The precept in this passage speaks merely of a "brother." Through envy or some other wicked feeling, even where there is no enmity, we may be tempted to rejoice in the lessening of another's prosperity. But neither is this hateful principle to be allowed to sway us.

3. Malice. This is the disposition which delights in what injures another for its own sake. So diabolical a state of feeling might be deemed impossible did not experience of the world afford too many proofs of its existence. There are unquestionably malicious and spiteful natures who, irrespective of any personal interest in the matter, derive an absolute gratification from seeing misfortune overtake those around them. The faintest beginning of such a spirit ought surely to be most jealously guarded against.

II. SECRET RETENTION OF ANOTHER'S PROPERTY. What is found is not to be appropriated or concealed. If the owner is unknown, the beast or lost article is to be taken home, and kept till he can be discovered. Though he is an enemy, his goods are to be faithfully restored to him. This, again, is a form of virtue which only strength of moral principle will enable one always to practice. - J.O.

We have here such express directions given as should have made of the Israelites a most neighborly people. The finding of lost oxen, or sheep, or asses, or raiment, is here made to carry with it the obligation of brotherly kindness; the animals or lost property must be restored to the owner, if he be known, or kept until he makes himself known. It is the law of love in practice.

I. THERE IS A NATURAL INCLINATION TO SHIRK ALL POSSIBLE TROUBLE. There is a drop of laziness in all of us, and, if indulged, it will lead to many an unbrotherly act. In the case supposed there is no witness present; the lost property is unexpectedly found; how much trouble it will save to pass on and leave it to its chances in the hands of others! And so we are tempted to array ourselves in the cloak of selfishness, and to spare ourselves all possible trouble.

II. THE CASUAL DISCOVERIES OF DAILY LIFE CONSTITUTE DUTIES LAID BY THE OMNISCIENT ONE TO OUR HANDS. There is no such thing as chance so far as God is concerned. Much has the appearance of chance to us, but, when reconsidered, it is the all-wise arrangement of God. "For what is this chance?" says a very able writer. It either has a real existence or not. If it has no existence, then when you say that a lot is determined by chance, you say that it is determined by nothing; that is, you say, Here is a sensible effect produced by no cause at all. This is pure nonsense. If your chance is a real being, what sort of being? Either it has life, intelligence, and power, or not. If not, then you say that millions of effects (for there are millions of lots in the world) are produced by a cause which has neither power, nor intelligence, nor life; that is, you say that millions of actions are performed by an agency which is essentially incapable of any action whatever. And this is as pure absurdity as the former. If you say that your chance is a living, intelligent, and active being, I ask who it is? and how you get your knowledge of it? You certainly imagine it to possess omnipresence and omnipotence; for you suppose it capable of producing, at the same moment, millions of effects in millions of places; and thus you have found out a being that displays perfections of God, and yet is not God. This conclusion is as blasphemous as the others are insane. There is no retreat. Survey the subject in any possible light, and you are driven to this issue, that the lot is, by the very nature of the case, a direct appeal to the living God, as Governor of the world (Dr. J. M. Mason's 'Considerations on Lots'). Hence discoveries, however casual, which throw us into new relations to persons, animals, or things, should be accepted as Divine duties laid to our hands. God's call is in them to be faithful and brotherly.

III. THE SHIRKING OF RESPONSIBILITY AND TROUBLE IS REALLY REBELLING AGAINST AN ORDINANCE OF GOD. If we have found the missing property, we have really been sent of God to be its stewards. To hide ourselves in our self-care is to rebel against his ordinance, and do despite to his gracious arrangements. It is to make self-pleasing the rule of life, instead of the pleasing of God. And as a rule it will be found that the person who thus candles himself and passes on trouble to others becomes heir of unexpected vexations himself.

IV. A THOROUGHLY OBLIGING AND HELPFUL SPIRIT HAS A WORLD OF COMPENSATION IN THE APPROVAL OF HIS OWN CONSCIENCE, IF NOT IN THE GRATITUDE OF MANKIND. Benevolence is its own reward. The kindness lavished on man and beast carries its own compensation with it. The sense of being brought to the opportunity of brotherly kindness by a gracious God, and of being his servant in showing his spirit, is surely worth all the trouble our kindness costs. So that, even supposing the recipients of our kindness were ungrateful, the kindness would still be well worth doing for its own sake. But then gratitude is not so rare a thing as people would suppose. It is entertained often when not very eloquently expressed. It is sometimes too deep for utterance. And to think that we have become creditors of our fellows, so as to deserve their gratitude, is satisfaction indeed.

"For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee." If we have any wisdom, therefore, we shall gladly cultivate the brotherly kindness here inculcated, for life becomes by it more blessed and more noble. - R.M.E.

In a healthy state, our souls should so overflow with love, that every neighbor should be regarded as a brother. If the esteem should not at first be reciprocated, our kindness would soften his asperity and make him a better man. In the long run, kindness will produce kindness.

I. PROPERTY HAS ITS CARES AS WELL AS ITS ADVANTAGES. Our earthly possessions have many drawbacks, and are always subject to injury and loss. Hence it is wisdom to hold them lightly, and to grieve little over their diminution. This insecurity is an indication of their inferiority. But the possessions of the soul, viz. wisdom, righteousness, faith, love, patience, are inalienable. The "things unseen are eternal."

II. EARTHLY LIFE IS A FINE FIELD FOR KINDLY SERVICE. The ills and trials which are incident to the present life provide full scope for active sympathy and help. We can scarcely imagine a condition of life in which could be afforded such room for the culture and discipline of the best affections. Every station in life gives opportunity for doing service to others. Every day we hear some new call to duty. We thus train ourselves for higher service. We become more qualified to do good on a large scale, are qualified to rule.


1. It is sin, inasmuch as it is a plain violation of God's command. As Creator and King, he has a right to make law and to enforce it.

2. It is sin, inasmuch as it is disloyalty to our best feelings. The instinct to show kindness is a part of our constitutional nature.

3. It is sin, inasmuch as it consciously allows injury to be done. The ox or ass that has wandered today, will have wandered further (if not recovered) tomorrow; may be irrecoverable then. The gold that is not occupied rusts. To hide our light under a bushel is sin.

IV. GENEROUS KINDNESS IS MORE REMUNERATIVE THAN SELFISHNESS. Generous and self-forgetful kindness brings returns of blessing to the soul. The treasury of the heart is enriched. We gain wealth that is imperishable. We obtain a good name among men, and live in their affectionate memory. We secure, in some measure, the favor of our God. We are in truth, by kindly service, laying up large store of good for coming days. "Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in the time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive." - D.

Woman has her rightful place and function in society. So has man his. Their places, while complementary, are distinct. In modern society, a variety of influences - competition in business, difficulty of finding suitable employment, the leveling tendency of the age, which is impatient even of distinctions that have their ground in nature-combine to thrust women into spheres and work not in keeping with womanly character. The distinction of the sexes is to be preserved:

1. In dress.

2. In manners. Unwomanly boldness and assertiveness in company or before the public is as unpleasant as foppish effeminacy is in men.

3. In occupations. Few would like to see women jostling men in the Exchange, pleading at the bar, or sitting in parliament. The feeling is not one of mere sentiment, but rests on inherent differences in the calling of the sexes. It deserves to be considered whether the line is not unduly crossed as it is in many forms of female occupation. It is certainly so crossed in some: barmaids; occupations involving an excessive tax on the female strength; manufactory work, where the system allows of the mingling of the sexes under conditions certain to demoralize, etc. (see Lecture on 'Sex in Industry,' by Joseph Cook - 'Monday Lectures'). - J.O.

We have here particular directions as to the maintenance of the distinction of dress between the sexes. On the termination of what Carlyle calls "Adamitism," in his 'Sartor Resartus,' when through the fall of man fig leaves were first resorted to, it is evident that the Lord was not content therewith as the device of self-conscious modesty, but gave them "coats of skins." These "coats," we can well believe, were differentiated, so that Eve's was in some particulars distinct from Adam's. This distinction in dress between the sexes, begun, let us suppose, immediately after the Fall, is designed by God to continue; and we have here the law prohibiting any exchanges of apparel, so as to conceal one's sex. It is, in fact, an earlier "philosophy of clothes" than Carlyle has given us.

I. THE PROMISCUOUS INTERMINGLING OF THE SEXES IS MOST UNDESIRABLE. Of course, this is quite another thing from the entire separation of the sexes as it prevails among Orientals. The latter custom proceeds on the supposition that there can be no social intercourse between them except licentious intercourse; and is the poor precaution of deep depravity. But suppose that men and women were wont to dress alike, there could be no enforcement of decorum such as difference in dress renders possible. The sexes are intended to be distinct, and cannot profitably be intermingled.

II. IT IS A DEEP INJURY TO BOTH SEXES TO OBLITERATE THE DISTINCTIONS PROVIDENCE HAS MADE. Whatever tends to render the male sex effeminate and the female sex masculine, is an injury to both. The tendency of the times is in this direction; women are being introduced to fierce competitions with men: we have had women, forgetful of their sex, even entering the prize-ring, to afford amusement to brutal onlookers; we have women persistently knocking at the door of professions fit for men only; while, on the other hand, we have a number of occupations, which will readily occur to every one, where men are made effeminate, and which could be most fitly discharged by women; and those reformers are not friends of either sex who try to break down the barriers between them. If Providence has made the one sex different from the other, then it is idle by any manipulation of ours to obliterate the distinction.

III. AT THE SAME TIME, IT IS A DEEP WRONG TO EXAGGERATE THE DEFECTS WHICH PROVIDENCE HAS ALLOTTED TO EACH BY ENLIGHTEHED SYSTEMS OF EDUCATION. We thoroughly sympathize with the effort to do away with the exaggerated "subjection of women," upon which Mr. Mill in his book has so ably insisted. The education of each sex should be as broad and liberal as possible. But no education can ever remove the inequality which naturally obtains between the sexes. Let education consider the providential purpose of sexual distinctions, and work on these lines, and. then, and. then only, need we expect permanent amelioration for oppressed sisters.

IV. MODESTY IS ONE OF THOSE SOCIAL GRACES WHICH SHOULD BE FOSTERED AND NOT RESTRAINED. We have heard of men whose command of their emotions was so perfect as never to allow their modesty to appear by any chance. It may be harmless or ludicrous in men; but it is ruin to women, and whatever tends to make them "Amazons" or "Trojans" is to be reprobated most earnestly.

V. IT TAKES THE TWO SEXES COMBINED TO GIVE A COMPLETE IMAGE OF THE DIVINE NATURE. When God said, "Let us make man (אָדָם) in our image, after our likeness," he used the generic term, and hence immediately resorts to the plural verb, "and let them have dominion (יִרְדּוּ)," etc. (Genesis 1:26). The idea is that it takes the female with the male to complete the Divine image. There is a maternal element as well as a paternal and a filial in the Divine nature (cf. Isaiah 49:15 with Psalm 103:13 and John 8:29). And it is interesting to notice among the theological vagaries and conceits of such a man as Theodore Parker, that he was forced to call his God," Infinite Father and Infinite Mother," a set-off to his dreary unitarianism. If then we find the sexual distinctions to be but the reflection of elements in the Divine nature, then a halo of true glory is thrown around each. In their respective spheres the sexes are exhibiting traits of divinity, and all effort at obliterating the distinctions through artificial means, will be found only to obliterate the Divine. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost have their counterparts in the development of humanity, and it is well clearly to see this. May the sexes carry on their respective missions so faithfully that earth may soon reflect in undimmed luster the various qualities of God! - R.M.E.

Truthfulness in act is as needful as truthfulness in speech. Our very dress is a manifesto of truth or of falsehood. God has stamped a visible distinction in the appearance of the human sexes, and it is fraudulent to obliterate them.

I. SIN OFTEN ROBES ITSELF IN A FOREIGN GARB. If sin always appeared in her true habits, but few would court her society. It is her plan to put on a false appearance. Vice usually succeeds because she wears the semblance of virtue. It is the policy of the devil to hide the real nature of sin. Her native blackness would alarm many, if it were seen. The felon flatters himself that it is all fair game. Murder is palliated as just revenge. Profligacy is defended as the impulse of nature. Unchastity paints her face, and robes in others' dress.

II. THE SLIGHTEST APPROACH TO SIN SHOULD BE SHUNNED. The Bible nowhere frowns on innocent merriment. But frolics, that lead to sin, are to be branded as detestable. A wise captain will give a wide berth to perilous quicksands. We cannot keep the sparks too far away from a cask of gunpowder. It is wise to close both ears to the bland voice of the guilty enchantress. Avoid the first step of temptation.

III. DECEIT IN ANY FORM IS DETESTABLE BEFORE GOD. We cannot too highly value a true standard in moral conduct. 'Tis more precious far than a standard for purity of gold or for correctness in speech. Such a standard God has furnished us in his own feelings and judgments. Pretence of any kind is as smoke in his eyes. He is light, faithfulness, and truth. To be transparent, candid, straightforward, is to be Godlike. - D.

The Law descends to very slight points of conduct. It keeps in view that character is made up of the result of our actions in the million trivial details of life. "Trifles," said Michael Angelo, when a friend thus characterized the slight finishing touches he was giving to a statue - "trifles make perfection." Matters which in themselves are of little moment acquire importance from the associations they awaken, the ideas they suggest, the consequences they lead up to. Little traits of humane behavior (vers. 6, 7), the habit of considering the bearings of what we do on others (ver. 8), respect for the ordinary and obvious distinctions of creation (ver. 9), etc., have all their influence on character, their effect in making us what we ultimately become. We may suggest, as lessons from these verses, that our conduct is to be marked:

1. By humanity.

(1) To animals.

(2) To our fellow-men.

In vers. 6, 7, the act forbidden is one akin to killing a cow and calf on the same day, or to seething a kid in its mother's milk (cf. on Deuteronomy 14:21) - an unfeeling violation of the sacredness of the relation between parent and offspring. Or the parent bird may be presumed to be taken only in wantonness, the young ones being really of service. This would be an act of cruelty. Humanity may be a motive in the precept of ver. 10 - "ox" and "ass" being obviously "unequally yoked together" (cf. Paul's allusion with application to marriage with unbelievers, in 2 Corinthians 6:14).

2. By caution. This is strikingly inculcated in ver. 8. How many accidents might be avoided if greater conscientiousness and caution prevailed in the different departments of labor! A shipbuilder puts in the side of a ship one wormy plank, and years after this costs the whole ship's crew their lives.

3. By simplicity. This is a lesson which may be learned from the precepts against mixing kinds (vers. 9, 11).

4. By mindfulness. The law of fringes in Numbers 15:38 - if this refers to the same thing - was intended to aid memory In another view of the precept, it inculcates decency and propriety. - J.O.

The command to spare the mother bird while the young might be taken, comes in significantly after the law distinguishing the sexes. The female sex is intended for motherhood; it "binds the generations each to each," as our Laureate says. On the exercise of this function the continuance of the species depends. Hence the command here is at once humane and intended to ensure the continuance of the species. Birds are very needful to keep down grubs and insects, and give the land a chance of due fertility. Hence the sportsman's enthusiasm was thus kept in proper check.

I. WHILE GOD GIVES THE ANIMALS TO MAN FOR FOOD, HE WOULD HAVE THE SACRIFICE OF LIFE THOUGHTFULLY MADE. There must be thought and deliberation about the selection of the young birds, about the pouring out of the blood, etc. All this introduced a humane element into the act.

II. THE FREEDOM OF THE DAM WAS ENSURED BY THE SACRIFICE OF THE YOUNG - A PERPETUAL LESSON ABOUT SUBSTITUTION AND SACRIFICE. As the mother received liberty, the Jewish sportsman would be led to think of the law of substitution and of sacrifice upon which all his religious hopes were built.

III. MOTHERHOOD WAS THUS RENDERED SACRED IN THE EYES OF THE JEWS. The idea, sacred in the woods among the wild birds, would become sacred elsewhere. "The mothers in Israel," instead of being sacrificed to their children, would be honored by them, which is the Divine order. The young generation should bear the burden rather than the old. To such a line of thought the law about birds' nests would naturally give rise. - R.M.E.

God's tender care extends to microscopic insects. Nothing is too minute to escape the notice of his eye. "Not a sparrow falls to the ground" without attracting his regard. In proportion as we become conformed to God's image, we shall cherish tender feeling for every living thing.

I. FOR MAN'S GOOD BIRDS LIVE AND BREED. They please the eye with their gay plumage. They regale our ears with pleasant song. They furnish our tables with food. They teach us lessons of cheerful trust. Devoid of anxious care, they daily feast upon the Divine bounty; and a ray of sunshine is repaid with melodious song. They fulfill a mission as the teachers of mankind. To birds we are indebted for considerable pleasure. For us they live: be ours no wanton cruelty.

II. IN THEIR MATERNAL CARES THEY APPEAL FOR GENTLE CONSIDERATION. We may wisely learn a lesson from their maternal affection, from the exposure of their own lives to defend their young. It will foster tender feeling in us to observe this self-forgetful-ness in mother birds. But to take advantage of this self-exposure - this noble defense of their offspring - for the purpose of capturing the parent, will deaden and demoralize our own sensibilities. We may furnish a meal for our bodily appetite; but we shall at the same time injure our nobler parts, strangle our nobler feelings.

III. FUTURE PROSPECTS ARE TO BE PREFERRED TO PRESENT PLEASURE. It is a short-sighted policy to use for present need everything within our reach. It is wholesome discipline to deny one's self now, in the hope of greater future good. The farmer foregoes the sale or the use of his grain, that he may have wherewith to sow his fields in the coming season. So to spare the life of the parent bird is to secure in return many other lives, a source of future profit should not thoughtlessly be destroyed. Self-restraint is an exemplary virtue. - D.

The different directions here given may be reduced to one idea, that of genuineness. The houses were to be substantial edifices, not endangering the lives of others by defective buildings or deficient battlements. The vineyards were to be sown with pure seed, that the plants might have a fair chance of growing luxuriantly. The ploughing was not to be done by an ox and ass together, for though the oxen are so small in Palestine as to be yokeable with an ass, the contrariety in temper and inequality in power would prevent good work. Linsey-woolsey was to be avoided as poor stuff compared with either woolen or linen alone. And finally, the fringes were to be made upon their garments, to be at once a finishing and a distinction in the clothes of the chosen people. God gave them thus a uniform. The great idea here, consequently, is that God's people should be distinguished by the genuineness and honesty of their life-work. Carlyle's preaching against shams is here forestalled, and we may surely learn from the directions here such lessons as these -

I. TO BE THOROUGH IN ALL OUR WORK. This is God's great lesson for us in his own government of the world. The beauty of the flower of the grass, which is to perish and be cast into the oven so soon, tells us to be microscopically minute and thorough in the most transient work. There are no short cuts through "shoddy" to real worth and real usefulness; but all should be genuine if we would serve our generation by the will of God.

II. LET US NOT BE ASHAMED TO BE CALLED GOD'S PEOPLE AMID LIFE'S HARD WORK. The Israelites were to wear their fringes, to go in uniform, and be pious peasants. The linking of genuine work with professed piety is altogether admirable. "Sublimer," says Carlyle, "in this world know I nothing than a peasant saint, could such now anywhere be met with. Such a one will take thee back to Nazareth itself: thou wilt see the splendor of heaven spring forth from the humblest depths of earth, like a light shining in great darkness." What we need is genuine piety to secure conscientious work. We shall not have better work till we have better men. Saintly workmen would discover for us the way back to Eden.

III. LET US FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF THE PEASANT OF NAZARETH. For our Lord became poor, and wrought as an artisan, and lived with the common people, to make a life of labor forever glorious. Nowhere do pride and vanity receive such reproof as in the life of him who wrought so nobly in Nazareth. And when he exchanged the carpenter's bench for the work of the ministry, it was only to work harder than before. "He went about doing good." "He had no leisure so much as to eat." So busy was he that he had frequently to steal from sleep the time for prayer. In his example we have the ideal of genuine, hearty labor, and so far as we follow him shall we be safe and happy. - R.M.E.

Thoughtlessness is the parent of much mischief. To reach a state of security and bliss, there must be life in our every part - in intellect, foresight, prudence.

I. MAN IS EXPOSED TO MANY NATURAL EVILS. Although lord and interpreter of nature, nature afflicts him in many ways. She scorches him with heat, freezes him with cold, pierces him with pain. Man has skill and power to bring nature under his dominion, if he will duly exert himself for this purpose. Nature is willing to be ruled, and to become the servant of man; but consents to be ruled only in accordance with Divine law. Our duty is to examine these laws, and to bring her into subservience to our true interests. Herein lies scope for the training of mind, heart, conscience, will - training for a higher sphere.

II. NATURAL LAW IS NEVER SUSPENDED TO SUIT MAN'S IMPRUDENCE. Be a man ever so pious, or be he engaged in work ever so benevolent, a moment's imprudence may cut short his life. He may mistake poison for medicine; he may leave open a gas-tap; he may imprudently trifle with some natural force; and pain or death will result. If he build a house, in order to protect himself and family from the rigors of the climate, any imprudence in the erection may bring on him heavier evils than those he thought to avert. The want of a parapet on the roof may expose his children to a sudden and painful death. We cannot too much admire God's thoughtful care in prescribing such regulations as these.

III. INADVERTENCE MAY PRODUCE GIGANTIC MISERY. It is not enough to have good intentions or gracious dispositions; mind, as well as heart, must be in active exercise. A foolish man is a curse to society Wisdom is greatly needed to produce a prosperous life, and to make a man useful to others. Eli was a good man, but exhibited great folly in the management of his sons, and disaster came thereby upon Israel. Reason is entrusted to every man to be used, and if the powers of intelligence are allowed to rust, the result is loss to ourselves and calamity to others. - D.

What was, in primitive days, matter for direct revelation from God, is now ascertained by scientific observation. Herein we learn that revelation and science spring from one origin and subserve one end - the good of men. And herein we may learn God's fatherly care for his children in the days of their infancy.

I. GREATEST FERTILITY IN NATURE IS TO BE SOUGHT. It is man's province to bring out the greatest productiveness in fields and fruit trees. Pruning, manuring, and grafting are essential. The vine needs especial care, and is susceptible of great increase of fruitfulness. So delicate is the blossom of the vine that the pollen of other plants in the vicinity, coming into contact, injures the formation of the fruit. It is a joy to God to see the trees of the field fruitful; how much more to see abundant fruitfulness in us! "Herein is our Father glorified." The least of God's commandments is profitable to observe.

II. NEEDLESS BURDENS ON ANIMALS FORBIDDEN. Every beast is appointed to be the servant of man; but man is required to act towards the inferior creation in God's stead. The burden of service laid upon oxen and asses is heavy enough; let it not be wantonly increased. Both the ox and the ass suffered from an unequal yoking in the plough. God saw the painful effect, and felt grieved. Animal feeling is a gift from God, and is intended to be for enjoyment. We may act in harmony with God, and increase that enjoyment; or we may, in part, frustrate his plan. In every act of man God takes lively interest. All day long he is approving or censuring.

III. OUR PIETY IS TO BE SEEN IN OUR RAIMENT. It is very probable that this prohibition about dress was to counteract a custom among idolaters - a custom which led to superstitious feeling. Some solid reason was at the root of the counsel, whether we can discover that reason or not. Our raiment is in some measure the exponent of our religion. If "Holiness to the Lord" is predicted as the motto to be found on the bells of the horses, so, and much more, should consecration to God be conspicuous on our dress and demeanor. Our raiment often serves as an ensign, and denotes to what party we belong - the Church or the world. If simplicity, modesty, beauty, sterling quality, be in our dress, these are ornaments of our holy faith. Whatever we do, or however we dress, be this our aim, to please God. A child will never be ashamed to acknowledge its father. - D.

The Mosaic Law is strict and stern in its requirement of purity in all that pertains to the marriage relation. Its strictness, however, is united with a fine sense of justice, and its shield is, as usual, extended for the protection of the innocent.

I. THE DEFAMED WIFE. (Vers. 13-19.) No act can be conceived more cruel or dastardly than that of a man who groundlessly assails his wife's character, accusing her of ante-nuptial unchastity. As the matter was one proof of which was not directly possible, and the man's word was all that could be adduced on his side, the Law threw the onus of clearing herself upon the woman through her parents, and indicated the mode of doing so. The "forty stripes save one" was a punishment not too heavy for this sort of false accusation.

II. THE UNCHASTE WIFE. (Vers. 20-24.) Three cases are distinguished, each punishable with death.

1. A woman found to be unchaste at time of marriage (vers. 20, 21).

2. Adultery after marriage (ver. 22).

3. A betrothed woman ravished with her implied consent (vers. 23, 24).

In the last two cases, the partner in guilt dies also. In the first, he only escapes, because he is unknown. Yet that unknown seducer, the cause of the woman's fall - a fall which shame subsequently tempted her to conceal - was not lost to the eye of him who sees secret crime, and will repay it. Little do such seducers think of the life-long shame and sin and misery to which they may be dooming the unfortunate victims of their wiles. God knows it, and will bring them to account. The severe penalties attached to conjugal unfaithfulness place in a startling light the gravity of the offence in the Divine esteem, and form a striking contrast to the light tone adopted about such matters in society.

III. THE WOMAN RAVISHED. (Vers. 25-29.) The cases specified are those of rape.

1. If the woman was betrothed, and could not save herself, she was to be held innocent, but her violator was to be punished with death.

2. If she was not betrothed, the man who had injured her was heavily fined, and was compelled to take her to wife, with no right of subsequent divorce. Possibly our own law might fitly imitate that of ver. 29. - J.O.

We have here various wise expedients to control the licentiousness of the people, and secure, so far as possible, social purity.

I. DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER WAS SEVERELY PUNISHED. A husband could not, with impunity, defame a newly married wife; for should there be proof forthcoming that his charge was false, he was to be publicly chastised, to pay a fine of one hundred shekels of silver to his father-in-law, whoso good name and peace he had threatened, and to be bound to his wife all his days.

II. WHOREDOM WAS MADE A CAPITAL CRIME. If the charge made against his wife prove true, then she is to be stoned to death for her sin. Immorality was really treason towards the Divine King, it was incompatible with his kingdom, and so was put into the category of capital crimes. The morale of the theocracy was really higher in idea than that of any other kingdom then or now existing.

III. ADULTERY WAS ALSO A CRIME FOR WHICH BOTH OFFENDERS MUST SUFFER DEATH. Here the two parties are criminals against the theocracy, and such a flagrant crime cannot be tolerated within it. The morality is severe and wholesome.

IV. ADULTERY COMMITTED WITH A BETROTHED DAMSEL IS TREATED JUST AS ADULTERY WITH A MARRIED WOMAN, FOR SHE IS AS GOOD AS MARRIED. Both parties in this case also must pay the penalty of death. Such severe measures were the wisest expedients in the end.

V. IN CASE OF ADVANTAGE BEING TAKEN OF A BETROTHED DAMSEL, THE RUFFIAN IS TO PAY THE PENALTY OF DEATH. If the taking away of life is justly punished with death, so should the murder of virtue. As a rule, our laws are too lenient towards ruffians that ruin women. Were a few of them sent to the gallows it would be no more than they deserve.

VI. IN CASE OF A VIRGIN THAT IS NOT BETROTHED, THE MAN WHO TAKES ADVANTAGE OF HER IS COMPELLED TO MARRY HER, AND TO PAY TO HER FATHER A SUBSTANTIAL FINE. The case thus dealt with is different from the preceding. It proceeds upon inquiry. The man is not carried by his passion into an act of great wrong towards one whom he can never hope to have as his wife, which was the last case; but he takes the case into his own hand, where no previous betrothal bars the way. He can make reparation, and he is compelled to do so. Again we say that our laws would be greatly improved if a spice of the severity of the Jewish law went to make the cowardly ruffians who disgrace society suffer more severely for their deeds.

VII. INCEST WAS FORBIDDEN. There is no mincing of matters, since all these abominations abounded among the Canaanites, and must be checked in Israel.

VIII. PURITY IS THUS SEEN TO BE GOD'S AIM. "Be ye holy; for I am holy," is God's direction. We must be as "chaste virgins" presented unto Christ. The social purity of Israel was only to reflect their spiritual purity as towards God. Our own lesson in these regulations is clear. We must not even in the slightest thought prove unfaithful to our Savior and Lord. He is the Husband of the Church, and requires a faithful wife. - R.M.E.

No blame can lie against the Scriptures because they legislate on such detestable matters. The blame must lie at the door of depraved humanity, which perpetrates such deeds and makes Divine legislation necessary. The obscenity appertains to the vices, only praise belongs to the remedy.

I. A WOMAN'S CHASTITY IS HER MAIN DOWRY FOR LIFE. If she possess not this virtue, she is worse than worthless; she is a plague and a pest - a moral dunghill. Apart from chastity, she can fill no proper place in society. Her true function is ended. She is only a discredit to the human name. Her light is dense darkness. The streams of life are polluted. The fountain of bliss is corrupted at its source. Rottenness is at the core of society. No language can exaggerate the evil.

II. SLANDER AGAINST A WIFE'S CHASTITY IS THE BLACKEST OF SINS. In proportion to the vileness of the sin and the severity of the penalty, is the baseness and guilt of the man who makes the accusation falsely. This is a climax of sins of speech, which nothing can surpass. Slander of any sort is heinous sin, and slander against an intimate friend is more heinous yet; but slander against one's wife - and against her chastity - is most heinous of all. Fines and scourging are lenient punishment for such a monster.

III. THE PENALTIES OF SIN ARE IN PROPORTION TO INJURY DONE. On the principle laid down in a previous law, the penalty for false accusation was fixed according to the nature of the deed falsely alleged to be done. In this case, the slanderer well deserved such a result. But then the injured wife would be injured all the more. In the dread penalty imposed on him, she would have to share. Hence, for her sake, the husband's life is spared. To calculate all the effects produced by one act of sin is impossible to the finite mind of man; yet (unless pardon, full and complete, be enjoyed) in proportion to these perpetuated effects will be the penalty meted out to the sinner. We may well "stand in awe." - D.

Purity in domestic life is at the root of national prosperity.

I. THE NEGLECT OF VIRTUE'S SAFEGUARDS IS GUILT. (Ver. 24.) If a sentinel recklessly leave open a portal in the beleaguered city, it is treason; it is as if he had betrayed his king. To see a house on flame, and to give no warning, is to become accountable for the destruction of a city. To neglect the physician's counsel in time of disease is to be guilty of death. So to make no resistance to the tempter is to court his approach. To go to the battle without sword, or spear, or shield is to invite defeat. Idle women may be said to tempt the devil.

II. NEGLECT OF DUE PRECAUTIONS OFTEN LEADS TO A TERRIBLE SURPRISE. Oftentimes we underrate what strength the tempter has until we are in his clutches. So long as we knew temptation only by hearsay, we imagined it easy to escape or to overcome; but when brought suddenly under its subtle, wily influence, we are surprised how easily we are overcome.

III. THE CONSENT OF THE WILL IS NEEDED TO CONSTITUTE A SIN. Whatever we are compelled to do by an external power, and against all the opposing force of our own will, this is not sin. Injury and loss may follow, but unless the will consents there is no moral culpability. The essence of sin lies in the inclination. A man may violate all the precepts of the Decalogue by a glance of his eye - ay, by a volition of his will. Whether the overt act follow or not may depend on favorable or unfavorable outward circumstance. The same mischievous effects will not follow, but the sin is there. Therefore, "Keep thy heart with all diligence."

IV. GENEROUS MINDS WILL PUT THE BEST POSSIBLE CONSTRUCTION ON HUMAN CONDUCT. (Ver. 27.) How generously minded a man may be, he is bound to be true. He cannot dissemble facts. He is under obligation to condemn the slightest sin. With the evil thing there must be no connivance. But if it be possible, with due regard to virtue, to give two interpretations on a deed, fairness to the doer requires that we give the interpretation the most favorable and generous. To a prisoner at the bar, the judge gives the full benefit of any doubt; and equal justice should be dealt to men in all our judgments upon them. If there be bright spots in their character and deeds, let us fasten our eyes upon these. It will do us good. To search out the diseased parts of humanity, and to find secret pleasure in contemplating these moral sores, - this will do us harm. As we measure our sentiments and judgments out to men, they will measure to us again. We may be blind to our own blemishes - we usually are; but others will readily find them out; and if we are harsh and ungenerous in our estimate of men, they will return the treatment, perhaps with compound interest. It is wise, every day, to foster in our breast the charity "that believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." - D.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Deuteronomy 21
Top of Page
Top of Page