Deuteronomy 21

1 If, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess, a body is found lying in open country, and it is not known who struck the person down,
2 then your elders and your judges shall come out to measure the distances to the towns that are near the body.
3 The elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked, one that has not pulled in the yoke;
4 the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to a wadi with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the wadi.
5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to him and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord, and by their decision all cases of dispute and assault shall be settled.
6 All the elders of that town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi,
7 and they shall declare: "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor were we witnesses to it.
8 Absolve, O Lord, your people Israel, whom you redeemed; do not let the guilt of innocent blood remain in the midst of your people Israel." Then they will be absolved of bloodguilt.
9 So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, because you must do what is right in the sight of the Lord.
10 When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive,
11 suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry,
12 and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails,
13 discard her captive's garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.
14 But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
15 If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked,
16 then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn.
17 He must acknowledge as firstborn the son of the one who is disliked, giving him a double portion of all that he has; since he is the first issue of his virility, the right of the firstborn is his.
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him,
19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place.
20 They shall say to the elders of his town, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard."
21 Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.
22 When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree,
23 his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you for possession.

Deuteronomy 21 Commentary

Chapter 21

The expiation of uncertain murder. (1-9) Respecting a captive taken to wife. (10-14) The first-born not to be disinherited for private affection. (15-17) A stubborn son to be stoned. (18-21) Malefactors not to be left hanging all night. (22,23)

Verses 1-9 If a murderer could not be found out, great solemnity is provided for putting away the guilt from the land, as an expression of dread and detesting of that sin. The providence of God has often wonderfully brought to light these hidden works of darkness, and the sin of the guilty has often strangely found them out. The dread of murder should be deeply impressed upon every heart, and all should join in detecting and punishing those who are guilty. The elders were to profess that they had not been any way aiding or abetting the sin. The priests were to pray to God for the country and nation, that God would be merciful. We must empty that measure by our prayers, which others are filling by their sins. All would be taught by this solemnity, to use the utmost care and diligence to prevent, discover, and punish murder. We may all learn from hence to take heed of partaking in other men's sins. And we have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, if we do not reprove them.

Verses 10-14 By this law a soldier was allowed to marry his captive, if he pleased. This might take place upon some occasions; but the law does not show any approval of it. It also intimates how binding the laws of justice and honour are in marriage; which is a sacred engagement.

Verses 15-17 This law restrains men from disinheriting their eldest sons without just cause. The principle in this case as to children, is still binding to parents; they must give children their right without partiality.

Verses 18-21 Observe how the criminal is here described. He is a stubborn and rebellious son. No child was to fare the worse for weakness of capacity, slowness, or dulness, but for wilfulness and obstinacy. Nothing draws men into all manner of wickedness, and hardens them in it more certainly and fatally, than drunkenness. When men take to drinking, they forget the law of honouring parents. His own father and mother must complain of him to the elders of the city. Children who forget their duty, must thank themselves, and not blame their parents, if they are regarded with less and less affection. He must be publicly stoned to death by the men of his city. Disobedience to a parent's authority must be very evil, when such a punishment was ordered; nor is it less provoking to God now, though it escapes punishment in this world. But when young people early become slaves to sensual appetites, the heart soon grows hard, and the conscience callous; and we can expect nothing but rebellion and destruction.

Verses 22-23 By the law of Moses, the touch of a dead body was defiling, therefore dead bodies must not be left hanging, as that would defile the land. There is one reason here which has reference to Christ; "He that is hanged is accursed of God;" that is, it is the highest degree of disgrace and reproach. Those who see a man thus hanging between heaven and earth, will conclude him abandoned of both, and unworthy of either. Moses, by the Spirit, uses this phrase of being accursed of God, when he means no more than being treated most disgracefully, that it might afterward be applied to the death of Christ, and might show that in it he underwent the curse of the law for us; which proves his love, and encourages to faith in him.

Footnotes 1

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO DEUTERONOMY 21

This chapter treats of the beheading of the heifer, for the expiation of unknown murder, and the rules to be observed in it, De 21:1-9 of a beautiful captive woman an Israelite is desirous of having for his wife, and what methods he must take to accomplish it, De 21:10-14, of giving the double portion to the firstborn, which he must not be deprived of in favour of the son of a beloved wife, De 21:15-17 and of the stubborn and rebellious son, who remaining so must be put to death, De 21:18-21 and of burying a person hanged on a tree the same day he is executed, De 21:22,23.

Deuteronomy 21 Commentaries