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Deeper Commentary


Deu 21:1 If anyone is found slain in the land which Yahweh your God gives you to possess, lying in the field and it isn’t known who has struck him-

"Drive out" is s.w. "possess". We must note the difference between the  Canaanite peoples and their kings being "struck" and their land "taken" by Joshua-Jesus; and the people of Israel permanently taking possession. This is the difference between the Lord's victory on the cross, and our taking possession of the Kingdom. Even though that possession has been "given" to us. The word used for "possession" is literally 'an inheritance'. The allusion is to the people, like us, being the seed of Abraham. The Kingdom was and is our possession, our inheritance- if we walk in the steps of Abraham. But it is one thing to be the seed of Abraham, another to take possession of the inheritance; and Israel generally did not take possession of all the land (Josh. 11:23 13:1; 16:10; 18:3; 23:4). The language of inheritance / possession is applied to us in the New Testament (Eph. 1:11,14; Col. 3:24; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Pet. 1:4 etc.). Israel were promised: "You shall possess it" (Dt. 30:5; 33:23). This was more of a command than a prophecy, for sadly they were "given" the land but did not "possess" it. They were constantly encouraged in the wilderness that they were on the path to possessing the land (Dt. 30:16,18; 31:3,13; 32:47), but when they got there they didn't possess it fully.

Deu 21:2 then your elders and your judges must come forth and measure to the cities which are around him who is slain.
Deu 21:3 The elders of the city which is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer of the herd, which hasn’t been worked with and which has not drawn the yoke-
The Lord’s crucifixion “night to the city" (Jn. 19:20) connected with Jerusalem thereby being guilty of His blood (Dt. 21:3).

Deu 21:4 and the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer to a valley with running water, which is neither ploughed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley.
Deu 21:5 The priests the sons of Levi must come near, for them Yahweh your God has chosen to minister to Him and to bless in the name of Yahweh, and according to their word shall every controversy be decided-

Proverbs stresses that the man who loves wisdom will be able to judge wisely (Prov. 2:9; 31:9). Yet it was the priests who were the judges of Israel (Dt. 19:17), they were the ones to whom hard cases were brought. Yet Proverbs implies all could act as priests. "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable (a word elsewhere used concerning the priests' service, Dt. 21:5) than (the offering of) sacrifice" (Prov. 21:5). Loving wisdom would give the ordinary Israelite a crown on his head (Prov. 4:9), alluding to the High Priestly crown (Ex. 29:6; Zech. 6:11).

Deu 21:6 All the elders of that city who are nearest to the slain man must wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley,
Deu 21:7 and they shall say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
Deu 21:8 Forgive, Yahweh, your people Israel whom You have redeemed, and don’t allow innocent blood to be among Your people Israel. The guilt of blood shall be forgiven them.
Deu 21:9 So you shall put away the innocent blood from the midst of you, when you do that which is right in the eyes of Yahweh.

Deu 21:10 When you go forth to battle against your enemies and Yahweh your God delivers them into your hands and you carry them away captive-

Just as all the animals and everything in the eretz promised to Abraham was 'delivered into the hands' of Noah (s.w. Gen. 9:2), so the nations of that eretz were delivered into the hands of Israel (s.w. Ex. 6:8; 23:31; Dt. 2:24; 3:2,3; 7:24; 21:10; Josh. 2:24; Jud. 1:2). Tragically, like Adam in Eden [perhaps the same eretz promised to Abraham] and Noah in the new, cleansed eretz, Israel didn't realize this potential. What was delivered into the hand of Joshua (Josh. 2:24) actually wasn't delivered into their hand, because they disbelieved (Jud. 2:23); and this looks ahead to the disbelief of so many in the work of the Lord Jesus, who has indeed conquered the Kingdom for us. They considered the promise of the nations being delivered into their hand as somehow open to question, and only a possibility and not at all certain (Jud. 8:7; Num. 21:2 cp. Num. 21:34). Some like Jephthah (s.w. Jud. 11:32; 12:3), Ehud (Jud. 3:10,28), Deborah (Jud. 4:14), Gideon (Jud. 7:15) did, for a brief historical moment; but as individuals, and their victories were not followed up on. Instead they were dominated by the territory. And so instead, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies within the eretz (s.w. Lev. 26:25; Jud. 13:1).   

Deu 21:11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you have a desire to her and would take her to you as a wife-
Throughout the Old Covenant there is the repeated stress that Israel were not to marry Gentiles. This was so far from the Biblical ideal of marriage. But then there is a concession to their likely weakness in Dt. 21:11-15: If they saw a beautiful woman among their enemies whom they liked, they had to put her through certain rituals, and then they could marry her. See on Dt. 20:14. The legislation in :11-14 is unique amongst the surrounding nations, where women were seen as objects of booty and were treated with far less sensitivity than this and usually raped in this situation. Likewise the law of :18-21 teaches equal reverence for both parents and not just the father.

Deu 21:12 then you shall bring her home to your house. She must shave her head and pare her nails-

The only provision for marrying a Gentile involved her going through a process of separation from her parents, reconciling herself to the fact she would never see them again, and making her realize that because she was outside the covenant, she was to be treated like a leper or defiled person (Dt. 21:11,12 = Num. 6:9; Lev. 14:9). Only once she had learnt this lesson could she enter into covenant with God's people and be married. 


Deu 21:13 and put off the clothing of her captivity and remain in your house and bewail her father and her mother a full month. After that you shall go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.
Deu 21:14 If you have no delight in her, then you must let her go where she will, but you must not sell her at all for money. Since you have humbled her, you must not deal with her as a slave-

"Humbled her" is the word used of how the Egyptians had afflicted the Hebrews (Ex. 1:11,12). Repeatedly, Israel were taught that they were to remember the state they had been in prior to their redemption from affliction; and redeem others from their affliction on that basis, and never to afflict people as Egypt had done to them. All this is an abiding principle for us. True redemption of others has to be rooted in an awareness of our own affliction. This is particularly necessary for those who were as it were schooled into Christ by reason of their upbringing.

Deu 21:15 If a man has two wives, the one beloved and the other hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated, and if the firstborn son be hers who was hated,
Deu 21:16 then in the day that he causes his sons to inherit that which he has, he must not make the son of the beloved the firstborn before the son of the hated, who is the firstborn.
Deu 21:17 He shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the hated, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his-
This means that in a situation where there were two sons, the younger son’s share was one third. In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son is given half – such was the Father’s love for him. This element of unreality in the parable is to signpost the amazing level of love the Father has for us; even when He knows that we will waste what He gives, still He gives, and gives generously.

Deu 21:18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father nor the voice of his mother and, though they chasten him, will not listen to them,
Deu 21:19 then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him and bring him out to the elders of his city and to the gate of his town.
Deu 21:20 They shall tell 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.
Deu 21:21 All the men of his city must stone him to death with stones. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.

Deu 21:22 If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and is put to death and you hang him on a tree,
Deu 21:23 his body must not remain all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him the same day (for cursed of God is he who is hanged on a tree), so that you don’t defile your land which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance-
The Jews "slew (Jesus) and hanged (him) on a tree" (Acts 5:30). There seems to be a distinction here; as if the 'slaying' was an ongoing process in His ministry, crowned by the final hanging on the tree. Paul speaks similarly in Galatians; as if the body was already dead when it was lifted up on the tree; for he quotes the Mosaic law regarding the body of a dead criminal being displayed on a tree as if it was descriptive of the Lord’s death (Gal. 3:13 cp. Dt. 21:23).

An interesting point comes out of the Greek text of Lk. 23:39: "One of the criminals who were suspended reviled him" (Diaglott). Ancient paintings show the thieves tied by cords to the crosses, not nailed as was Christ. Hanging on a tree became an idiom for crucifixion, even if nails were actually used (Dt. 21:23 cp. Gal. 3:13; Acts 5:30; 10:39). If this were so, we see the development of a theme: that the whole ingenuity of man was pitted against the Father and Son. Christ was nailed, not tied; the tomb was sealed and guarded; the legal process was manipulated; the Lord was flogged as well as crucified.  

We see here that one dimension of crucifixion on a tree was public shame and public instruction. These were all aspects of the Lord's death. Dt. 21:23 had commanded this taking down bodies of criminals from the tree where they were exhibited, by evening; even condemned criminals were to be shown some respect. For after dark wild animals and birds would have eaten them. We see here reflected how God truly takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. We need not unduly fear condemnation, for God doesn't want to condemn people.

These words have been misunderstood as meaning that the Lord Jesus as a living being was under one of the Law's curses of condemnation. This cannot be. Crucifixion was a Roman, not Jewish method. The Deuteronomy passage was not written with reference to crucifixion, but rather to the custom of displaying the already dead body of a sinner on a pole as a witness and warning. Sin brought the curse; and so every sinful person who died for their sin was bearing the curse of God. They were to be buried quickly, as a sign of God taking no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Jesus died the death of a sinner; He bore our sins, and therefore our curse (Gal. 3:13,14). Every condemned sinner whose body had been displayed had been a type of the sinless Son of God. He was exhibited there for a few hours, totally united with sinful man. And then, because God had no pleasure in this condemnation of sin, the body was taken and buried.