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 F2,
``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
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 F3 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 F4 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 F5, 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.''
F2 Misn. Maccot, c. 3. sect. 10. Vid. Buxtorf. Synagog. Jud. c. 25. p. 522, 523.
F3 Hilchot Sanhedrin, c. 17. sect. 1.
F4 Ibid. sect. 7, 8, 9.
F5 Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 21.