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.
Ver 1. - Because he hath found some uncleanness in her; literally, a thing or matter of nakedness, i.e. some shameful thing, something disgraceful; LXX., ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα: Vulgate, "aliquam foeditatem." In the Targum of Onkelos, the expression is explained by עֲבֵירִת פִתֵגָם; "aliquid foeditatis" (London Polyglot); "iniquitas rei alicujus"(Buxtorf); "the transgression of a [Divine] word" (Levi). On this the school of Hillel among the rabbins put the interpretation that a man might divorce his wife for any unbecomingness (Mishna, 'Gittin,' 9:10), or indeed for any cause, as the Pharisees in our Lord's day taught (Matthew 19:3). The school of Shammai, on the other hand, taught that only for something disgraceful, such as adultery, could a wife be divorced (Lightfoot, 'Her. Hebrews et Talm.,' on Matthew 5:31, Opp., tom. 2:290). Adultery, however, cannot be supposed here because that was punishable with death. A bill of divorcement; literally, a writing of excision; the man and woman having by marriage become one flesh, the divorce of the woman was a cutting of her off from the one whole. Lightfoot has given (lee. et.) different forms of letters of divorce in use among the Jews (see also Maimonides, 'De Divortiis,' Deuteronomy 4. § 12).
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Verse 4. - The woman was held to be defiled by her second marriage, and thus by implication, the marrying of a woman who had been divorced was pronounced immoral, as is by our Lord explicitly asserted (Matthew 5:32). The prohibition of a return of the wife to her first husband, as well as the necessity of a formal bill of divorcement being given to the woman before she could be sent away, could not fail to be checks on the license of divorce, as doubtless they were intended to be.
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.
Verse 5. - A man newly married was to be exempt from going to war, and was not to have any public burdens imposed on him for a year after his marriage. Charged with any business; literally, there shall not pass upon him for any matter; i.e. there shall not be laid on him anything in respect of any business. This is explained by what follows. Free shall he be for his house for one year; i.e. no public burden shall be laid on him, that he may be free to devote himself entirely to his household relations, and be able to cheer and gladden his wife (comp. Deuteronomy 20:7). "By this law God showed how he approved of holy wedlock (as by the former he showed his hatred of unjust divorces) when, to encourage the newly married against the cumbrances which that estate bringeth with it, and to settle their love each to other, he exempted those men from all wars, cares, and expenses, that they might the more comfortably provide for their own estate" (Ainsworth).
No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge.
Verses 6-14. - Various prohibitions. Verse 6. - No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge; rather, the hand mill and the upper millstone (literally, the rider) shall not be taken (literally, one shall not take) in pledge. Neither the mill itself nor the upper millstone, the removal of which would render the mill useless, was to be taken. The upper millstone is still called the rider by the Arabs (Hebrew reehebh, Arabic rekkab). For he taketh a man's life to pledge; or for (thereby) life itself is pledged; if a man were deprived of that by which food for the sustaining of life could be prepared, his life itself would be imperiled (cf. Job 22:6; Proverbs 22:27; Amos 2:8).
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.
Verse 7. - Against man-stealing: repetition, with expansion, of the law in Exodus 21:16.
Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do.
Verses 8, 9. - The law concerning the leprosy is in Leviticus 13, 14. By this law the priests are directed how to proceed with those afflicted with leprosy; and here the people are counseled by Moses to follow the directions of the priests in this case, however painful it might be for them to submit to the restrictions that would be thereby imposed upon them, remembering what the Lord did to Miriam the sister of Moses, how even she was separated from the camp by the express command of God until she was healed (Numbers 12:14). Michaelis, Keil, and others, following the Vulgate ("Observa diligenter ne incurras plagam leprae sed facies quaecunque docuerint to sacerdotes"), understand this passage as inculcating obedience to the priests, lest leprosy should be incurred as a punishment for disobedience. But it is improbable that a general counsel to submit to the priests should be introduced among the special counsels here given; and besides, the formula הִשָּׁמֶר בְ means, "Take heed to yourself in respect of" (cf. 2 Samuel 20:10; Jeremiah 17:21), rather than "Beware of," or "Be on your guard against."
Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come forth out of Egypt.
When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.
Verses 10-13. - If one had to take a pledge from another, he was not to go into the house of the latter and take what he thought fit; he must stand without, and allow the debtor to bring to him what he saw meet to offer. He might stand outside and summon the debtor to produce his pledge, but he was not insolently to enter the house and lay hands on any part of the owner's property. To stand outside and call is still a common mode of seeking access to a person in his own house or apartment among the Arabs, and is regarded as the only respectful mode. There would be thus a mitigation of the severity of the exaction, the tendency of which would be to preserve good feeling between the parties. If the debtor was needy, and being such could give in pledge only some necessary article, such as his upper garment in which he slept at night, the pledge was to be returned ere nightfall, that the man might sleep in his own raiment, and have a grateful feeling towards his creditor. In many parts of the East, with the Arabs notably, it is customary for the poor to sleep in their outer garment. "During the day the poor while at work can and do dispense with this outside raiment, but at night it is greatly needed, even in summer. This furnishes a good reason why this sort of pledge should be restored before night" (Thomson, 'Land and the Book,' 1:192, 500). The earlier legislation (Exodus 22:25, 26) is evidently assumed here as well known by the people. It shall be righteousness unto thee (see on Deuteronomy 6:25).
Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.
And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge:
In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God.
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:
Verses 14, 15. - The wage of the laborer was to be punctually paid, whether he were an Israelite or a foreigner (cf. Leviticus 19:13; the law there is repeated here, with a special reference to the distress which the withholding of the hire from a poor man even for a day might occasion).
At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
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.
Verse 16. - Among heathen nations it was common for a whole family to be involved in the penalty incurred by the head of the family, and to be put to death along with him (cf. Esther 9:13, 14; Herod., 3:118, 119; Ammian. Marcell., 23. 6; Curtius, 6:11, 20; Claudian, 'In Eutrop.,' 2:478; Cicero, 'Epist. ad Brut.,' 12, 15). Such severity of retribution is here prohibited in the penal code of the Israelites. Though God, in the exercise of his absolute sovereignty, might visit the sins of the parent upon the children (Exodus 20:5), earthly judges were not to assume this power. Only the transgressor himself was to bear the penalty of his sin (cf. 2 Kings 14:6).
Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge:
Verses 17, 18. - The law against perverting the right of strangers, widows, and orphans is here repeated from Exodus 22:20, 21; Exodus 23:9, with the addition that the raiment of the widow was not to be taken in pledge. To enforce this, the people are reminded that they themselves as a nation had been in the condition of strangers and bondmen in Egypt (cf. Leviticus 19:33, 34).
But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.
Verses 19-22. - (Cf. Leviticus 19:9, 10; Leviticus 23:23.) Not only was no injustice to be done to the poor, but, out of the abundance of those in better estate, were they to be helped.
When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
Verse 21. - Thou shalt not glean it afterward; literally, Thou shalt not glean after thee, i.e. after thou hast reaped and gathered for thyself. It is still the custom among the Arabs for the poor to be allowed to gather the berries that may be left on the olive trees after they have been beaten and the main produce carried off by the owner. All the injunctions in this section are adapted to preserve relations of brotherliness and love among the people of the Lord.
And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.