Deuteronomy 21 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Deuteronomy 21)

Verse 1

[1] If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:

The field — Or, in the city, or any place: only the field is named, as the place where such murders are most commonly committed.

Verse 2

[2] Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:

Thy elders and judges — Those of thy elders who are judges: the judges or rulers of all the neighbouring cities.

Measure — Unless it be evident which city is nearest; for then measuring was superfluous.

Verse 3

[3] And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;

Which hath not drawn in the yoke — A fit representative of the murderer, in whose stead it was killed, who would not bear the yoke of God's laws. A type also of Christ, who was under the yoke, but what he had voluntarily taken upon himself.

Verse 4

[4] And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley:

A rough valley — That such a desert and horrid place might beget an horror of murder and of the murderer.

Strike off the neck — To shew what they would and should have done to the murderer if they had found him.

Verse 5

[5] And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:

Every controversy — Of this kind: every controversy which shall rise about any stroke, whether such a mortal stroke as is here spoken of, or any other stroke or wound given by one man to another.

Verse 7

[7] And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.

They shall answer — To the priests who shall examine them.

This blood — This about which the present enquiry is made: or this which is here present: for it is thought the corps of the slain man was brought into the same place where the heifer was slain. Nor have we seen or understood how or by whom this was done.

Verse 8

[8] Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.

Forgiven — Though there was no mortal guilt in this people, yet there was a ceremonial uncleanness in the land, which was to be expiated and forgiven.

Verse 10

[10] When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,

Enemies — Of other nations, but not of the Canaanites.

Verse 11

[11] And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;

Hast a desire unto her — Or, hast taken delight in her: which may be a modest expression for lying with her, and seems probable, because it is said, Deuteronomy 21:14, that he had humbled her. And here seem to be two cases supposed, and direction given what to do in both of them, 1. that he did desire to marry her, of which he speaks, Deuteronomy 21:11-13. 2. that he did not desire this, of which he speaks, Deuteronomy 21:14.

Verse 12

[12] Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

She shall shave her head — In token of her renouncing her heathenish idolatry and superstition, and of her becoming a new woman, and embracing the true religion.

Verse 13

[13] And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

Raiment of captivity — Those sordid raiments which were put upon her when she was taken captive.

Bewail her father and mother — Either their death, or which was in effect the same, her final separation from them.

Verse 14

[14] And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.

If thou have no delight in her — If thou dost not chuse to marry her.

Thou shalt not make merchandise of her — Make gain of her, either by using her to thy own servile works, or by prostituting her to the lusts or to the service of others.

Verse 15

[15] If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:

Two wives — This practice, though tolerated, is not hereby made lawful; but only provision is made for the children in this case.

Hated — Comparatively, that is, less loved.

Verse 19

[19] Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

His father and mother — The consent of both is required to prevent the abuse of this law to cruelty. And it cannot reasonably be supposed that both would agree without the son's abominable and incorrigible wickedness, in which case it seems a righteous law, because the crime of rebellion against his own parents did so fully signify what a pernicious member he would be in the commonwealth of Israel, who had dissolved all his natural obligations.

Unto the elders — Which was a sufficient caution to preserve children from the malice of any hard-hearted parents, because these elders were first to examine the cause with all exactness, and then to pronounce the sentence.

Verse 20

[20] And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

A glutton and a drunkard — Under which two offences others of a like or worse nature are comprehended.

Verse 22

[22] And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:

On a tree — Which was done after the malefactor was put to death some other way, this publick shame being added to his former punishment.

Verse 23

[23] His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

He is accursed of God — He is in a singular manner cursed and punished by God's appointment with a most shameful kind of punishment, as this was held among the Jews and all nations; and therefore this punishment may suffice for him, and there shall not be added to it that of lying unburied. And this curse is here appropriated to those that are hanged, to so signify that Christ should undergo this execrable punishment, and be made a curse for us, Galatians 3:13, which though it was to come in respect to men, yet was present unto God.

Defiled — Either by inhumanity towards the dead: or by suffering the monument of the man's wickedness, and of God's curse, to remain publick a longer time than God would have it, whereas it should he put out of sight, and buried in oblivion.