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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible

Deuteronomy 17

 

 

Verse 1

DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 17

They are not to offer blemished sacrifices, Deuteronomy 17:1. Idolaters are to be put to death, Deuteronomy 17:2-7. Doubts in difficult matters to be resolved by priests and judges, Deuteronomy 17:8-13. To choose a king of their own brethren, and not a stranger, Deuteronomy 17:14,15. The duty of their king, Deuteronomy 17:16-20.

Any bullock or sheep, i.e. either greater or smaller sacrifices, all being comprehended under the two most eminent kinds. See Leviticus 22:20,21.

An abomination, i.e. abominable, as Deuteronomy 18:12.


Verse 2

Man or woman; the weakness and tenderness of that sex shall not excuse her sin, nor prevent her punishment.

In transgressing his covenant, i.e. in idolatry, as it is explained Deuteronomy 17:3, which is called a transgression of God’s covenant made with Israel, partly because it is a breach of their faith given to God, and of that law which they covenanted to keep; and principally because it is a dissolution of their matrimonial covenant with God, a renouncing of God and his worship and service, and a choosing other gods.


Verse 3

Those glorious creatures, which are to be admired as the wonderful works of God, but not to be set up in God’s stead, nor worshipped as gods: see Job 31:26. By condemning the most specious and reasonable of all idolaters, he intimates how absurd a thing it is to worship stocks and stones, the works of men’s hands.

Which I have not commanded, i.e. I have forbidden, to wit, Exo 20. Such negative expressions are oft emphatical, and imply the contrary, as Proverbs 10:2 17:21 24:23.


Verse 4

Told thee by any person, thou shalt not slight so much as a rumour or flying report of so gross a crime.

Inquired diligently, by sending messengers, examining witnesses, &c.


Verse 6

At the mouth, i.e. upon the testimony delivered upon oath before the magistrates.

Three witnesses, to wit, credible and competent witnesses. The Jews rejected the testimonies of madmen. children, women, servants, familiar friends, or enemies, persons of dissolute lives and evil fame.


Verse 7

Shall be first upon him; either laid upon his head to design the person, or stretched out to throw the first stone at him. God thus ordered it, partly for the caution of witnesses, that if they had through malice or wrath accused him falsely, they might now be afraid to imbrue their hands in innocent blood; partly for the security and satisfaction of the people in the execution of this punishment.

The hand of all the people, who, being all highly and particularly obliged to God, are bound to express their zeal for his honour and service, and their detestation of all persons and things so highly dishonourable and abominable to him.


Verse 8

Too hard for thee; he speaks to the inferior magistrates, who were erected in several cities, as appears by the opposition of these to them at Jerusalem. If, saith he, thou hast not skill or confidence to determine so weighty and difficult a cause.

Between blood and blood, i.e. in capital causes in matter of bloodshed, whether it be wilful or casual murder, whether punishable or pardonable by those laws, Exodus 21:13,20,22,28 22:2 Numbers 35:11,16,19 Deu 19:4,10.

Between plea and plea; in civil causes or suits between plaintiffs and defendants about words or estates.

Between stroke and stroke, i.e. either first in ceremonial causes,

between plague and plague, between the true leprosy, which is ofttimes called the plague, and the seeming and counterfeit leprosy, which was oft-times hard to determine. And under this, as the most eminent of the kind, may seem to be contained all ceremonial uncleannesses. But this seems not probable,

1. Because the final determination of the matter of leprosy is manifestly left to any particular priest, Le 13 14.

2. Because the person suspected of leprosy was not to be brought to Jerusalem, to be tried there, but was to be shut up in his own city and house, Leviticus 13:4,5; and the judges at Jerusalem neither could nor would determine his case without once seeing the person.

3. Because the case of leprosy was not hard or difficult, as those causes are said to be, but plain and evident, and so particularly and punctually described, that the priest needed only eyes to decide it. Or rather,

2. In criminal causes, concerning blows or wounds inflicted by one man upon another, and to be requited to him by the sentence of the magistrate according to that law, Exodus 21:23-25, wherein there might be many cases of great difficulty and doubt, about which see the annotations there.

Matters of controversy, i.e. such things or matters of blood and pleas and strokes being doubtful, and the magistrates divided in their opinions about it; for if it was a clear case, this was not to be done. Some make this an additional clause to comprehend these and all other things, thus as if he had said, and in general,

any words or matters of strifes or contentions.

1. Which the Lord shall choose, to wit, to set up his worship and tabernacle or temple there; because there was the abode, both of their sanhedrim, or chief council, which was constituted of priests and civil magistrates, who were most able to determine all controversies, and of the high priests, who were to consult God by Urim, Numbers 27:21, in great matters, which could not be decided otherwise.


Verse 9

Unto the priests the Levites, i.e. unto the great council, which it is here denominated from, because it consisted chiefly of the priests and Levites, as being the best expositors of the laws of God, by which all those controversies mentioned Deuteronomy 17:8 were to be decided. And the high priest was commonly one of that number, and may seem to be understood here under the priests, whereof he was the chief.

Unto the judge: this judge here is either,

1. The supreme civil magistrate, who was made by God the keeper of both tables, and was by his office to take care of the right administration both of justice and of religion, who was to determine causes and suits by his own skill and authority in civil matters, and by the priests’ direction in spiritual or sacred causes. But this seems obnoxious to some difficulties, because,

1. This judge was obliged to dwell in the place of God’s worship, which the civil magistrate was not, and ofttimes did not.

2. This judge was one whose office it was to expound and teach others the law of God, as it here follows, Deuteronomy 17:11, therefore not the civil magistrate. Or,

2. The high priest, who was obliged to live in this place, to whom it belonged to determine some at least of those controversies mentioned Deuteronomy 17:8, and to teach and expound the law of God. And he may be distinctly named, though he be one of the priests, partly because of his eminency and superiority over the rest of them, as after

all David’s enemies Saul is particularly mentioned, Psalms 18:1; and partly to show that amongst the priests he especially was to be consulted in such cases. But this also seems liable to objections.

1. That he seems to be included under that general expression of the

priests and Levites.

2. That the high priest is never in all the Scripture called simply the judge, but generally called the priest, or the high priest, or chief priest, or the like; and it is most probable if Moses had meant him here, he would have expressed him by some of his usual names and titles, and not by a strange title which was not likely to be understood.

3. That divers controversies between blood and blood, plea and plea, stroke and stroke, were not to be determined by the high priest, but by other persons, as appears by Exodus 18:22 Deuteronomy 1:16,17. Or,

3. The sanhedrim or supreme council, which, as was said before, consisted partly of priests, and partly of wise and learned persons of other tribes, as is confessed by all the Jewish and most other writers. And so this is added by way of explication, partly to show that the priests and Levites here mentioned, as the persons to whom all hard controversies are to be referred, are not all the priests and Levites which should reside in Jerusalem, but only such of them as were or should be members of that great council by whom, together with their fellow-members of other tribes, these causes were to be decided; partly to intimate that that great council, which had the chief and final determination of all the above-said controversies, was a mixed assembly, consisting of wise and good men, some ecclesiastical, and some secular; as it was most meet it should be, because many of the causes which were brought unto them were mixed causes. As for the conjunctive particle and, that may be taken either disjunctively for or, as it is Exodus 21:15,17, compared with Matthew 15:4; and Numbers 35:5,6, compared with Matthew 12:37 Leviticus 6:3,5 2 Samuel 2:19,21; or exegetically, for that is, or to wit, as Jude 7:24 1 Samuel 17:40 1 Samuel 28:3 2 Chronicles 35:14; and so the sense may be, the priests, the Levites, or the judge, as it is Deuteronomy 17:12; or, the priests, the Levites, that is, the judge, or the judges appointed for this work. And though the word judge be in the singular number, and may seem to denote one person, yet it is only an enallage, or change of the number, the singular for the plural, judges, which is most frequent, as Genesis 3:2,7 49:6 1 Samuel 31:1 1 Kings 10:22 2 Kings 11:10, compared with 2 Chronicles 9:21 23:9 and in the Hebrew, 1 Chronicles 4:42, where divers officers are called one head. And so it is most probably here,

1. Because the following words Which belong to this run altogether in the plural number, they, they, they, &c., here and Deuteronomy 17:10,11.

2. Because here is the same enallage in the other branch, the same person or persons being called the priests here, and the priest Deuteronomy 17:12.

3. Because for the judge here is put the judges, Deuteronomy 19:17, where we have the same phrase used upon the same or a like occasion, the men between whom the controversy is shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days. Nor is it strange, but very fit and reasonable, that so many persons being all united in one body, and to give judgment or sentence by the consent of all, or the greatest part, should be here called by the name of one judge, as indeed they were; and for that reason the priests are spoken of in the plural number, because they were many, as also the other members of that assembly were, and the judge in the singular number, because they all constituted but one judge. The sentence of judgment, Heb. the word or matter of judgment, i.e. the true state and right of the cause, and what judgment or sentence ought to be given in it.


Verse 10

Thou shalt, i.e. thou shalt pass sentence; for he speaks to the inferior magistrates, as was before noted, who were to give sentence, and came hither to be advised about it.

Thou shalt observe to do. It is very observable that this place doth not speak of all controversies of faith, as if they were to believe every thing which they should teach; but only of some particular matters of practice and strife between man and man, to which it is plainly limited, Deuteronomy 17:8. And they are not here commanded to believe, but only to

do, which is thrice repeated.


Verse 11

According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee: these words are a manifest limitation of the foregoing assertion, that they were to do according to all that the judge or judges informed him. And they seem to limit and regulate,

1. The judges in their sentence, that they shall not, upon pretence of this supreme authority put into their hands, presume to teach or direct otherwise than the law prescribes.

2. The people in their obedience; first they shall not simply obey them in all things, but so far forth as their sentence is according to the law and word of God, but not when their commands are evidently contrary to God’s laws, for then, say even popish commentators on this place, they must obey God rather than man. And this cannot be denied by any man of sense, upon supposition that this place speaks of, and this power given to the priest or judge reacheth to, all controversies or questions of faith and manners, as the papists would extend it: for put case these priests or judges’ should give a sentence directly contrary to the express words of God’s law, Thou shalt worship a graven image, as Aaron did in the case of the calf, thou shalt profane the sabbath, thou shalt dishonour thy father and mother, thou shalt murder, steal, commit adultery, &c., I ask, were the people in this case bound to do as the judge determined, or not? If any say they were, such a bold and wicked assertion must need strike all sober Christians with horror; and if they say they were not, then this must needs be taken for a limitation. But this place speaks only of particular suits between man and man, as is apparent from the notes on See Poole "Deuteronomy 17:8". And in all such cases, although the judge be hereby confined and tied to his rule in giving the sentence, yet it seems but fit and reasonable that people should be bound simply to acquiesce in the sentence of their last and highest judge, or else there would have been no end of strife.


Verse 12

That will do presumptuously, i.e. that will proudly and obstinately oppose the sentence given against him. This is opposite to ignorance and error, Exodus 21:13,14.

The evil; either,

1. The evil thing, that scandal, that pernicious example. Or,

2. That evil, refractory, pernicious person, whose practice herein tends to the dissolution of all government, and the ruin of the common-wealth of Israel.


Verse 14

He only foresees and foretells what they would do, but doth not seem to approve of it, because when they did this thing for this very reason here alleged, he declares his utter dislike of it, 1 Samuel 8:7.


Verse 15

Thou shalt set him, i.e. appoint, or install. If you will choose a king, which I shall suffer you to do, I command you to mind this in your choice.

Whom the Lord shall choose, approve of, or appoint. So it was in Saul, and in David. God reserved to himself the nomination both of the family and of the person. See 1 Samuel 9:15 10:24 1 Samuel 16:12 1 Chronicles 28:4,5.

From among thy brethren; of the same nation and religion; partly because such a person was most likely to maintain true religion, and to rule with righteousness, gentleness, and kindness to his subjects; and partly that he might be a fit type of Christ, their supreme King, who was to be one of their brethren.

Mayest not set a stranger over thee, to wit, by thy own choice and consent; but if God by his providence and for their sins should set a stranger over them, they might submit to him, as appears from Jeremiah 38:17 Ezekiel 17:12 Matthew 22:17.


Verse 16

He shall not multiply horses to himself, to wit, excessively, beyond what the state and majesty of his place required. Hereby God would prevent many sins and mischiefs, as,

1. Pride of heart, and contempt of his people.

2. Oppression and tyranny, and the imposition of unnecessary burdens upon his people.

3. Carnal confidence, which by this means would be promoted. See Psalms 33:17 Proverbs 21:31.

4. Much commerce with Egypt, as it here follows, which was famous for horses, as appears from Exodus 14:23 1 Kings 10:26,28 2 Chronicles 1:16 9:28 Isaiah 31:1,3 Eze 17:15.

Nor cause the people to return to Egypt; either for habitation, or for trade. This God forbade to prevent,

1. Their unthankfulness for their deliverance out of Egypt.

2. Their confederacies with the Egyptians, their trusting to them for aid, which they were very prone to, and their infection by the idolatry and other manifold wickednesses for which Egypt was infamous.

3. Their multiplication of horses, as it here follows. The Lord hath said: when or where? Answ. Either implicitly, when he showed his dislike of their return to Egypt, as Exodus 13:17 Numbers 14:3,4; or expressly at this time, The Lord hath now said it to me, and I in his name, and by his command, declare it to you. That way; in the way that leads to that place.


Verse 17

Neither shall he multiply wives, as the manner of other kings was.

That his heart turn not away, to wit, from God and his law; either,

1. To idolatry and superstition, to which women are ofttimes prone, and especially such women as he was likely to choose, even the daughters of neighbouring and idolatrous kings and princes, as Solomon did; or,

2. To other manifold sins and violations of his duty to his people, either by neglect and contempt of his business, through effeminacy and sloth, or by oppressing his people, and perverting justice, to comply with the vast and exorbitant desires of his wives.

Neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold, lest this should lift up his heart in confidence and pride, which God abhors, and beget in him a contempt of his people; and lest it should incline, or engage, or enable him to burden his people with immoderate exactions. They are not simply forbidden to be rich, if God made them so either by the voluntary gifts of their subjects, or by the spoils of their enemies, which was the case of David, and Solomon, and Jehoshaphat, &c.; but they are forbidden either inordinately to desire, or irregularly to procure, great riches by grinding the faces of their poor people, or by other wicked arts and courses, as the manner of their neighbouring kings was.


Verse 18

He shall write; either with his own hand, as the Jews say; or, at least, by his command and procurement.

Out of that which is before the priests the Levites, i.e. out of the original, which was carefully kept by the priests in the sanctuary, Deuteronomy 31:26 2 Kings 22:8, partly that it might be a true and perfect copy, and partly that it might have the greater authority and influence upon him, coming to him as from the hand and presence of God.


Verse 19

All the days of his life, i.e. diligently and constantly; neither the greatness of his place, nor the weight and multitude, of his business, shall excuse or hinder him.


Verse 20

That his heart be not lifted up; he intimates, that the Scriptures, diligently read and studied, are a powerful and probable means to keep him humble, because they show him that, though a king, he is subject to a higher Monarch, to whom he must give an account of all his administrations and actions, and receive from him his sentence and doom agreeable to their quality, which is sufficient to abate the pride of the haughtiest person in the world, if he duly consider it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Deuteronomy 17:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/deuteronomy-17.html. 1685.

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