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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 24

 

 

Introduction

The Covenant Stipulations, Covenant Making at Shechem, Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1).

In this section of Deuteronomy we first have a description of specific requirements that Yahweh laid down for His people. These make up the second part of the covenant stipulations for the covenant expressed in Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 and also for the covenant which makes up the whole book. They are found in chapters 12-26. As we have seen Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 provide the preamble and historical prologue for the overall covenant, followed by the general stipulations in chapters 5-11. There now, therefore, in 12-26 follow the detailed stipulations which complete the main body of the covenant. These also continue the second speech of Moses which began in Deuteronomy 5:1.

Overall in this speech Moses is concerned to connect with the people. It is to the people that his words are spoken rather than the priests so that much of the priestly legislation is simply assumed. Indeed it is remarkably absent in Deuteronomy except where it directly touches on the people. Anyone who read Deuteronomy on its own would wonder at the lack of cultic material it contained, and at how much the people were involved. It concentrates on their interests, and not those of the priests and Levites, while acknowledging the responsibility that they had towards both priests and Levites.

And even where the cultic legislation more specifically connects with the people, necessary detail is not given, simply because he was aware that they already had it in writing elsewhere. Their knowledge of it is assumed. Deuteronomy is building on a foundation already laid. In it Moses was more concerned to get over special aspects of the legislation as it was specifically affected by entry into the land, with the interests of the people especially in mind. The suggestion that it was later written in order to bring home a new law connected with the Temple does not fit in with the facts. Without the remainder of the covenant legislation in Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers to back it up, its presentation often does not make sense from a cultic point of view.

This is especially brought home by the fact that when he refers to their approach to God he speaks of it in terms of where they themselves stood or will stand when they do approach Him. They stand not on Sinai but in Horeb. They stand not in the Sanctuary but in ‘the place’, the site of the Sanctuary. That is why he emphasises Horeb, which included the area before the Mount, and not just Sinai itself (which he does not mention). And why he speaks of ‘the place’ which Yahweh chose, which includes where the Tabernacle is sited and where they gather together around the Tabernacle, and not of the Sanctuary itself. He wants them to feel that they have their full part in the whole.

These detailed stipulations in chapters 12-26 will then be followed by the details of the covenant ceremony to take place at the place which Yahweh has chosen at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28).

V. FURTHER REGULATIONS (Chapters 22-25).

We have all heard sermons where the experienced preacher suddenly begins to roam far and wide, jumping swiftly from one subject to another in rapid succession, picking out information here and there, in order to present an overall picture. Sometimes there may seem to be no logic to it, but there usually is. And that is partly what Moses was doing here The regulations that follow may not seem to come in any discernible overall pattern, although Moses probably had one in his mind. But items are grouped together, or joined by key words and thoughts. Moses had a wide collection of laws from which he here extracted examples covering a wide range of circumstances so as to turn their thoughts back to Yahweh’s written Instruction. It was not intended to be comprehensive or detailed, but to convey an impression. (In the same way a similar lack of connections was found in many law codes).

While in some cases there is, and has been, a connection with the ten commandments, that is not sufficient to explain the miscellany of laws which we must now consider, although for such a connection see, for example, Deuteronomy 19:15-21 - ‘you shall not bear false witness’; Deuteronomy 21:1-9 - ‘you shall not murder’; Deuteronomy 21:18-21 ‘honour your father and your mother’; Deuteronomy 22:22-27 - ‘you shall not commit adultery’; Deuteronomy 23:24-25; Deuteronomy 24:7 (compare Deuteronomy 19:14) - ‘you shall not steal’. But we note that there is no mention anywhere of the Sabbath day, something which is quite remarkable if, as some think, parts of Deuteronomy were written later. It would have been seen as an obvious gap that had to be filled. But Moses may well have classed that as priestly regulation, which he rarely touches on in the speech. But these regulations which have the particular commandments in mind are found other regulations which do not obviously fit into the pattern, although attempts have been made to do it. Such attempts do, however, require a lot from the imagination.

From this point on therefore we have a miscellany of regulations which cap what has gone before. While certain connections are unquestionably at times discoverable there seem in some cases to be no particular pattern to them, apart from the important one of consideration for others, and a need to consider covenant regulations. The essence of the message was that they were to love their neighbours, and resident aliens, as themselves (Deuteronomy 10:19 compare Leviticus 19:18; Leviticus 19:34).


Verses 1-4

Chapter 24 Regulation On The Result of Divorce and On Fair Dealing and Consideration For Others.

Regulation On Divorce and Remarriage With The Same Woman (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

This regulation caused much dissension between the Rabbis. The question for them was as to what ‘because he has found some unseemly thing (literally ‘some nakedness of a thing’, compare Deuteronomy 23:14) in her’ meant. Shammai said that it signified fornication and unclean behaviour. Hillel argued that it simply meant anything that displeased the husband. Jesus came down on the side of Shammai, but limited it to adultery.

The argument that it could not refer to adultery, because the punishment for adultery was death, overlooks the fact that such a sentence would only be passed where the husband had lodged his case and called in witnesses. If the husband did not wish to pursue the death penalty, and no one else took up the case, it would not necessarily be exacted, unless the woman was discovered by others in open breach. (Compare how in the Matthew 1:19, in what appeared to be a similar case, ‘Joseph being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly’).

But this was not actually a law laying down a case for divorce. The Law in fact never lays down a case for divorce. It was disapproved of by God. This was about one particular point as to what was to happen when a man following custom had divorced a wife who then remarried, and was later divorced by the second husband, or whose second husband died. The point being made was that the first husband could not remarry her. That was seen as a step too far.

Such a position would in practise be very important. Otherwise there would always be the danger that the longstanding relationship of the first marriage might act as a constant magnet to draw the woman out of a second marriage to remarry her first husband. It might produce instability in the second marriage. It might even cause some women to poison their second husbands so as to be able to return to the first.

It also prevented reckless divorces gone through on the basis that if they wished they could always come together again. The introduction of this regulation here might suggest that Moses was very much aware of recent cases where these things had occurred.

This chapter again has ‘thou, thee’ all the way through apart from Deuteronomy 24:7 and Deuteronomy 24:8 where the change simply stresses that everyone is involved.

Analysis using the words of Moses.

· When a man takes a wife, and marries her, then it shall be, if she find no favour in his eyes because he has found some unseemly thing (literally ‘nakedness of a word/thing’) in her, that he shall write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house (Deuteronomy 24:1).

· And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife (Deuteronomy 24:2).

· And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house, or if the latter husband die, who took her to be his wife (Deuteronomy 24:3).

· Her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she is shown as (declared to be) defiled, for that is abomination before Yahweh, and you shall not cause the land to sin, which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance (Deuteronomy 24:4).

Note that in ‘a’ the husband divorces his wife, and in the parallel may not take her again once she has remarried, even if her husband dies. In ‘b’ she marries another man, and in the parallel it is posited that she is divorced by him, or that he dies.

Deuteronomy 24:1

When a man takes a wife, and marries her, then it shall be, if she find no favour in his eyes because he has found some unseemly thing (literally ‘nakedness of a word/thing’) in her, that he shall write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.’

Moses was really here only explaining that a divorce had taken place for some particular reason, without going into detail, although he undoubtedly did see it as a valid reason. He was not, however, intending it to be analysed, either by the Rabbis, or by would be divorce seekers of the present day. He expected his listeners to know the customary conditions for divorce, so he did not explain them here. His reference was not specific. But what did ‘nakedness of a word/thing’ convey. It would certainly seem to suggest some sexual transgression or something unpleasantly unclean. We can compare Deuteronomy 23:14 where the same phrase is used and translated as ‘unclean’ and signifies a man’s waste products.

The word for ‘nakedness’ is regularly used of the shame of a person’s nakedness being revealed. It is not the word for ritually unclean nor for things which were just generally unseemly. So ‘nakedness’ usually connects with something to do with sex or the sexual organs. An act of adultery or near adultery for which he did not wish to press charges would fit the bill exactly, possibly a case where she had been discovered before the actual adultery took place, or of actual adultery where there were no witnesses, and his reticence on the matter is then explained by the fact that he divorced her rather than openly accusing her and that he was represented as loving her enough to be willing to take her back after the second divorce.

But while he did not press charges it had been sufficient of a blow to his family honour and his own sense of pride for him to give her a divorce contract in writing and send her away. Possibly out of shame she had even demanded it. It would seem, also, that she left without any rights, which would indicate that she had sinned grievously. That divorce was possible is made clear by Deuteronomy 22:19; Deuteronomy 22:29, but not on what conditions. Those verses were simply saying that never again could those particular men bring an action for divorce against that woman for any reason. (Others could accuse her but not them. They had forfeited their right by their behaviour. They were not considered trustworthy). So the grounds for divorce here seems to be restricted to sexual misconduct.

Deuteronomy 24:2

And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.’

Once the woman was dismissed from his household she may take the step of going and becoming another man’s wife. (This was not giving permission for this, only stating that it may happen. Unless she returned home it was almost her only option). She had her written contract declaring her to be free. We note here that it was seemingly seen as perfectly acceptable by custom for her to remarry, but never stated in God’s Law. It was this remarriage that Jesus called adultery, and said that it was only allowed by God, although never authorised by Him, for the hardness of their hearts. The point was not that He had condoned it, but that He did not interfere with the general custom and actually forbid it.

Deuteronomy 24:3-4

And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house, or if the latter husband die, who took her to be his wife, her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she is shown as (declared to be) defiled, for that is abomination before Yahweh, and you shall not cause the land to sin, which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance.’

But the second husband might hate her and also give her a bill of divorcement, and send her from his household. Here the condition for the divorce is the husband’s ‘hate’. It is the same word as that which caused a false accusation of adultery in Deuteronomy 22:13-14. It is thus in the wider context connected with a man who accused his wife of sexual misbehaviour. (The fact that the one who made the false charge of adultery in Deuteronomy 22:13-14 found it necessary to do so demonstrates that divorce was not easy). But no detail of why this second husband hated her is given. There is nothing to say what it was. For that is not what Moses was seeking to demonstrate here. It is probably suggesting in summary form the fact that she had done exactly the same as she did to her first husband.

Alternately the second husband might die. By adding the clause ‘if the second husband dies’ Moses has put us on the spot. We must immediately ask in passing why Moses complicated things and even mentioned the possibility of a divorce in the second case. It is clearly irrelevant to the case, for if it had not happened it would have made no difference to the argument. The second husband’s death would produce the same situation. Why then did he not just use the illustration that her second husband died? The answer can only be because he wanted to bring out what the woman was like, that all the fault lay with the woman. She was the kind of woman, said Moses, who might easily have had a second divorce. She was a disaster waiting to happen.

But the vital point was now reached. She was again free. However, we now learn that even under the old law the first husband cannot now remarry her. He knows that she was ‘shown as defiled’. But why was she ‘shown as defiled’? We may basically ignore the actions of the second husband, because the same would apply even if he had done nothing and had simply died. Thus we must concentrate on the first husband. And here we must ignore the effect of the theoretical remarriage to the first husband because she was ‘shown to be defiled’ before that had happened.

How had she been shown to be defiled? It may be by her behaviour which had caused the first divorce, of which possibly only he knew, or it may be by her, to his knowledge, having married a second time, or both. To him she had twice revealed herself as an adulteress. There was, however, no suggestion about whether she was or was not permitted to marry again. It was simply stated as something that did happen. No comment is made on it, although as we have seen Moses does make clear what he thought of her.

This is very important to note. Had God approved of divorce it would have been so important a factor that surely it would have been legislated for. Yet it was never legislated for. The only concession that God made was not to interfere with the custom because of the hardness of their hearts. He did not step in to interfere with the custom. But divorce nowhere has God’s blessing.

Thus the ‘showing of defilement’ only seems to apply to the first husband. He not only knew about the divorce certificate, but he also knew the facts behind the case. For him therefore to take her now would be for him to take a woman he knew to be permanently defiled, and defiled in such a way that the defilement could not be removed. For she had committed adultery by going with her second husband. And that could surely only indicate a continuingly adulterous woman. To marry her would result in his own permanent defilement and would defile the land (compare Jeremiah 3:1).

Another alternative explanation is that he was the only one who knew about the two (or one) divorce contracts. Others would have only known about one, or none at all. So he knew that she had been married twice while her first husband was still alive and was thereby an adulteress against him. Thus to marry her as an adulteress against him would be to confirm her adultery and be equally defiling, and would defile the land. She could no longer come to him as unsullied to become one with him. It would in Yahweh’s eyes be obscene. It would be making a mockery of all that marriage stood for. It would be so obscene that it would cause the land which had been given to them as an inheritance from Yahweh to sin. For the sins done in the land were the sins of the land.

Whichever way it was, (and in some ways they were saying the same thing), it was her continuing adulterous state that banned the marriage. And yet as the banning is only in relation to marriage with him it must connect with his personal knowledge of her. He would know that she had not just made one slip up, but was an adulteress through and through. Anyone else who married her might not realise what kind of woman she was, and would not therefore be deliberately sinning against the land. But he did know and would be doing so.


Verse 5

Further Commands Related to Relationships (Deuteronomy 24:5-15).

The relationship between the people was to be that of ‘neighbours’, and they must love their neighbour as themselves (Leviticus 19:18). Thus they must ensure that men received immediately the benefit of contracts (Deuteronomy 24:5 and Deuteronomy 24:15), that their necessities should not be retained in pledges (Deuteronomy 24:6 and Deuteronomy 24:13), that their households were protected from violation (Deuteronomy 24:7 and Deuteronomy 24:10-11), and that they were not made unclean by another’s skin disease (Deuteronomy 24:8-9).

Analysis using the words of Moses:

a When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out in the army, nor shall he be charged with any business. He shall be free at home one year, and shall pleasure his wife whom he has taken (Deuteronomy 24:5).

b No man shall take the mill or the upper millstone to pledge, for he takes a man’s life to pledge (Deuteronomy 24:6).

c If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and he deal with him as a slave, or sell him, then that thief shall die. So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you (Deuteronomy 24:7).

d Take heed in the plague of skin disease, that you observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you (Deuteronomy 24:8).

d As I commanded them, so you shall observe to do. Remember what Yahweh your God did to Miriam, by the way as you came forth out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 24:9).

c When you lend your neighbour any manner of loan, you shall not go into his house to fetch his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring forth the pledge outside to you (Deuteronomy 24:10-11).

b And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep holding on to his pledge, you shall surely restore to him the pledge when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his garment, and bless you, and it shall be righteousness to you before Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 24:12-13).

a You shall not take advantage of a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he be of your brethren, or of your resident aliens who are in your land within your gates, in the same day you shall give him his hire, nor shall the sun go down on it, for he is poor, and sets his heart on it, lest he cry against you to Yahweh, and it be sin to you (14-15).

Note that in ‘a’ a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out in the army, nor shall he be charged with any business. He shall be free at home one year, and shall pleasure his wife whom he has taken. Advantage must not be taken of him for he has a right to receive immediately the benefits of his marriage. In the parallel advantage must not be taken of a hired servant. He too has a right to receive immediately the benefits of his contract. In ‘b’ no man shall take the mill or the upper millstone to pledge, for he takes a man’s life to pledge, and in the parallel he must not retain a poor man’s pledge overnight but must restore it to him so that he may sleep in it. In ‘c’ if a man is found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and he deal with him as a slave, or sell him, then that thief must die, he has forced himself on and violated another’s household, and in the parallel when a man lends his neighbour any manner of loan, he must not go into his neighbour’s house to fetch his pledge, forcing himself on his household and violating it. He must stand outside, and the man to whom he lends will bring out the pledge to him. In ‘d’ all must take heed in the plague of skin disease, that they observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach them out of concern for their neighbour’s and the cleanliness of the camp, and in the parallel they must observe to do what Moses commanded them in this regard, remembering what Yahweh your God did to Miriam in smiting her with skin disease by the way as you came forth out of Egypt (and then healing her after which she had to observe her seven days - Numbers 12:10-15).

A Newly Married Man Free From Military Service For A Year (Deuteronomy 24:5).

The thought of the previous case caused Moses to want to relieve the gloom about marriage so he now introduced a case which revealed the other side of things. This is absolutely understandable in the context of Moses speaking to Israel. It is not so in the case of someone making up a story to hang on Moses. There are so many of these small indications of a speaker’s concern that no one could have had the consummate artistry to think of them all. They ring true as being what they claim to be.

This is the first in a series where the stress is on fair dealing and consideration towards the individual, with regard to relationships.

Deuteronomy 24:5

When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out in the army, nor shall he be charged with any business. He shall be free at home one year, and shall pleasure his wife whom he has taken.’

Here was a man for whom marriage was a delight. He had taken a new wife and his only desire was to be at home with her. The Law concurred. For a whole year he was to be free from army call-up, or from any pressing business that would take him away from home, so that he could pleasure his wife.

It may well be true that part of the reason for this was in order to produce an heir so that his name would live on if he was killed in war. That no doubt was a reason behind the regulation. But that is not what Moses brought out in his speech. He was stressing the positive side of marriage as well rectifying the sad view of marriage revealed in the previous case. Here advantage must not be taken of the newly wed household. They must be allowed immediately to enjoy the benefits of the marriage.


Verse 6

A Mill Or Millstone May Not Be Taken In Pledge (Deuteronomy 24:6).

Deuteronomy 24:6

No man shall take the mill or the upper millstone to pledge, for he takes a man’s life to pledge.’

The next case of fair dealing and consideration consisted of when a pledge was taken for a loan. Such a pledge must never be a man’s mill, or the detachable upper millstone. To take either would be to take away the man’s ability to prepare his food. This was probably the small mill that each household would have in order to grind the unmilled grain. By taking this the creditor would be taking the man’s very life. This must never happen.


Verse 7

A Kidnapper Shall Die (Deuteronomy 24:7).

Here we have a contrary example of unfair dealing and lack of consideration which must be punished by death. The kidnapper violates the household of his victims and violently interferes with their rights.

Deuteronomy 24:7

If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and he deal with him as a slave, or sell him, then that thief shall die. So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you.’

A kidnapper who stole any Israelite, whether man, woman or child, with a view to making them slaves or selling them for slavery, must be sentenced to death. To make a slave of an Israelite was to reverse God’s deliverance and was unforgivable. By the kidnapper’s death this dreadful evil would be put away from their midst.

(This was not, of course, saying that as long as they were not treated as slaves or sold as slaves then the kidnapping was legal. This obvious case where silence tells us nothing is a warning to us not to read things into what is not said).

Compare Exodus 21:16 where all ‘man-stealing’ is worthy of death.


Verse 8-9

Dealing With Severe Skin Disease (Deuteronomy 24:8-9).

When men and women were aware of an unexplainable skin disease they must play fair and consider their neighbours and ensure that they went to the priest to be examined. This was another example which demonstrated that this was not a general giving of law, but a citation of law as it affected the people. The ritual details as regards the priests were omitted, what was important was what the people should do.

Deuteronomy 24:8-9

Take heed in the plague of skin disease, that you observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you. As I commanded them, so you shall observe to do. Remember what Yahweh your God did to Miriam, by the way as you came forth out of Egypt.’

Note the different form used here. Moses has varied between apodicitic law, ‘you shall not--’, and case law, ‘if -- then you shall’. This is exhortatory for it is not citing a specific regulation. This continual mixture of forms is another indication of a genuine speech.

His listeners were clearly expected to know about the detailed cultic teaching in Leviticus 14. What he was concerned with here was that they would obey the priests’ instruction concerning it. They must do what the levitical priests told them in accordance with what God had commanded in His Instruction. What they taught was Yahweh’s command. They must observe to do it.

Let them all remember what Yahweh their God did to Miriam. She disobeyed Yahweh and was stricken with a skin disease and she also had to spend seven days outside the camp (Numbers 12:10-15). Let them also therefore be obedient to Yahweh, especially when it came to skin disease.

Others see the ‘take heed’ or ‘be on your guard’ as referring to obeying God’s commandments as given through the priests, with the warning that if they do not they may be stricken with skin disease like Miriam was. That would certainly fit the illustration better. But if it was so it would be the only case where reference is made to the commandments as coming through the priests (although see Deuteronomy 27:9-10. But even that does not directly refer to the giving of the commandments).


Verses 10-13

Regulation of Pledges (Deuteronomy 24:10-13).

Deuteronomy 24:10-11

When you lend your neighbour any manner of loan, you shall not go into his house to fetch his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring forth the pledge outside to you.’

This regulation stressed the sanctity of a man’s home and personal rights, which were not to be violated. A creditor must not burst in without warning, taking what he would (like the kidnapper), indeed must not burst in at all. He must be considerate and thoughtful, and on making his approach to obtain his pledge, stand outside and let the person bring it out to him. This might be in respect of an initial pledge, or a daily pledge. In the latter case the man would clearly be very poor. But his right to privacy must still be respected.

Furthermore it prevented the creditor from making his own choice of what was to be pledged. A man’s property was seen as his own, and that right must be respected. We must not make free with other people’s possessions.

Deuteronomy 24:12-13

And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep holding on to his pledge, you shall surely restore to him the pledge when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his garment, and bless you, and it shall be righteousness to you before Yahweh your God.’

And in the case of a very poor man, who has given his robe in pledge, the robe must be returned to him nightly so that he could sleep in it. For such a man would use his robe as his bed clothes. Then the man will bless his creditor, and this behaviour will count before God. God will see it and approve. They will be counted as covenant keepers and be blessed accordingly. Thus as with the taking of his handmill in Deuteronomy 24:6 this is the taking of what is vital for his personal welfare.

We should note that, while Deuteronomy continually makes provision for those in need, ‘the poor’ are only mentioned in this chapter and Deuteronomy 15:4-11. This was partly because had Israel been obedient there would not have been poor in the land. so that regularly he speaks in terms of those of whom some would inevitably be poor, the fatherless, the widow and the resident alien/foreigner (Deuteronomy 10:18-19; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 27:19; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 5:14; Deuteronomy 26:11-13; Deuteronomy 29:11 compare Exodus 22:22-23) rather than directly of the poor. For he did not want reference to the poor to be taken as evidence that there inevitably would be poor people, other than as a result of misfortune. Poor people in Yahweh’s land were actually a contradiction. His attitude to the resident alien and the foreigner is especially paralleled in Leviticus 19:33-34, compare with this Deuteronomy 10:18, but is common throughout (Exodus 12:48-49; Exodus 20:10; Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Exodus 23:12; Leviticus 24:22; Leviticus 25:6; Leviticus 25:35; Numbers 9:14; Numbers 15:14-16; Numbers 15:26-30; Numbers 35:15).


Verse 16

No One Shall Die For Another’s Sin (Deuteronomy 24:16).

Fair play and consideration for others was even to reach to those responsible for justice. This idea of personal responsibility was not late. It appears in early law codes outside Israel, although as we would expect, in varying degrees. The unrighteous must be condemned and the innocent justified.

Deuteronomy 24:16

The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers. Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.’

The root principle of justice was to be that every man died for his own sin, and not for the sins of others (compare Numbers 27:3). The Law Code of Hammurabi sometimes applied the principle of ‘a life for a life’ in terms of the fact that if a man killed someone else’s son, his own son must be killed in recompense. This was never to be so in Israel. Each man was accountable for himself and himself alone as far as justice was concerned.

This is not contradictory to the principle that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the third and the fourth generation (Deuteronomy 5:9). There God was warning of how sin could, and regularly did, work out. He was warning of the consequences that could result. That is a very different thing from the administering of individual justice. The consequences brought about by evil in our lives are inevitable results, not God’s deliberate judgments.


Verse 17-18

Justice Must Be Done To The Weak (Deuteronomy 24:17-18).

Consideration and fair play must be extended to the very weakest in society. They most of all depend on it.

Deuteronomy 24:17

You shall not distort the justice due to the resident alien, or to the fatherless, nor take the widow’s raiment to pledge,’

Compare here Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 16:18-20. Justice was especially to be dispensed fairly to those who could not defend themselves. The resident alien and the fatherless had nowhere to look for help other than to justices. And taking a widow’s garment in pledge was so despicable that it could not even be considered.

But we cannot just turn away and leave it to the justices. It is our responsibility, as far as we are able, to ensure that they are just. We must all ensure that justice is being applied properly. And all must have consideration for the poor.

Deuteronomy 24:18

But you shall remember that you were a bondsman in Egypt, and Yahweh your God redeemed you from there. Therefore I command you to do this thing.’

And this especially applied to Israel, for they had been poor. They were to remember that they had been themselves bondsmen in the land of Egypt, and that they had not delivered themselves, but that it was Yahweh Who had paid the price of their deliverance by His display of mighty power. That especially is why they are commanded to do this thing.

Christians have another motive. They remember the One Who though He was rich, became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).


Verses 19-22

The Gleanings Must Be Left For The Poor (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

One of Yahweh’s means of ensuring provision for the poor in the land would be that Israelite farmers out of their prosperity were to leave in their fields, vineyards and orchards the remnants of what was gathered, which are termed ‘the gleanings’. A description was now given of these in rhythmic form.

Deuteronomy 24:19

When you reap your harvest in your field,

And have forgotten a sheaf in the field,

You shall not go again to fetch it.

It shall be for the resident alien,

For the fatherless, and for the widow,

That Yahweh your God may bless you,

In all the work of your hands.

When you beat your olive-tree,

You shall not go over the boughs again.

It shall be for the resident alien,

For the fatherless, and for the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard,

You shall not glean it after you,

It shall be for the resident alien,

For the fatherless, and for the widow.”

We have presented it in this way in order to bring out the pattern. Each section ends with, ‘it (the gleanings) shall be for the resident alien, for the fatherless and for the widow’. But above that in each case is described a type of gleanings.

Firstly came the grain harvest. When harvesting the grain and producing the sheaves in the field, which were then gathered in, a sheaf might easily be overlooked here and there because there was so much. This sheaf was to be left as gleanings. And in fact some further gleanings were to be left in the corners of the fields (Leviticus 19:9) and any that was dropped in gathering must be left (Leviticus 23:22). Compare here Ruth 2. This was so that Yahweh their God might see it and as a result bless them in the work of their hands.

Then came the olive gathering. The branches would be beaten in order to bring down the olives. But some obstinate olives would stay in place. They were not to make another attempt. What remained was to be left as gleanings. When gathering the grapes, which would be done swiftly and expertly, every now and then a bunch might escape notice. These were to be left as gleanings (compare Leviticus 19:10).

Deuteronomy 24:22

But you shall remember that you were a bondsman in Egypt, and Yahweh your God redeemed you from there. Therefore I command you to do this thing .’

And they should do this because they remembered that they were bondsmen in Egypt, and had through it learned compassion for those worse off than themselves. And that is why they were commanded to do this thing.

Note how this phrase, ‘you shall remember that you were a bondsman in the land of Egypt’ connects the perverting of justice for the weak and helpless (Deuteronomy 24:17 with Deuteronomy 24:18) with the leaving of gleanings for the weak and helpless (Deuteronomy 24:19-21 with Deuteronomy 24:22). Their experiences were to give them compassion for the weak and helpless in every way.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 24:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/deuteronomy-24.html. 2013.

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