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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Deuteronomy 24

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXIV.

A bill of divorce is to be given to the wife who is dismissed: Man-stealers are to be condemned to death: the pledge of a poor man must not be kept all night: the wages of an hired servant are immediately to be paid him: what remains in the field after harvest, is to be left for the poor.

Before Christ 1451.


Verse 1

Ver. 1. When a man hath taken a wife The Hebrew nation having been accustomed to the liberty of putting away their wives from motives of dislike and aversion, and Moses being sensible that their hardness of heart, and severity of temper, would, upon an absolute restraint from such liberty, produce greater inconveniences and distractions in families; he now enacted, that when any husband laboured under an absolute dislike to his wife, either upon account of any bodily disease, or of her disagreeable temper, he should have the privilege of parting with her; yet not in a violent, hasty, and passionate method, but deliberately, by giving her, signed with his own hand, a discharge from all further relation to him; whence she obtained a full right to marry any other person. That by the phrase found some uncleanness in her, cannot be meant adultery, or any other enormous crime, as idolatry, apostacy, and the like, is evident, because those crimes were punished with death. The word uncleanness, therefore, which is used with great latitude in these books, must signify any thing creating dislike or aversion; something, either in her body or mind, which created in the husband a fixed disgust: but as he himself was sole judge what this uncleanness or turpitude was, whatever displeased him about her he might call by that name. Mr. Locke observes, in agreement to the Margin of our Bibles, that the phrase literally signifies the nakedness of any thing; and nakedness, says he, is usually referred in Scripture to the mind, as well as body. Houbigant is of opinion, that this uncleanness refers solely to some secret bodily defect, of which the husband alone could be conscious; and that such defect only could justify divorce. This, no doubt, gave husbands a great power over their wives, and must have been attended with very great inconveniencies to society. See ch. Deuteronomy 22:19; Deuteronomy 22:29 and Matthew 19:3-9. The law enjoins, that a bill of divorcement (or of cutting off, so called, as it cut off a woman from her husband) was to be written and given to the woman. A form of this divorce may be seen in Selden and Buxtorf. As we have mention of divorces in several places, (Leviticus 21:14; Leviticus 22:13. Numbers 30:9.) many judicious interpreters have been of opinion, that it was usual to put away wives before the law of Moses; that he only indulged them in an established custom, which he knew their intractable tempers would not bear to have quite abolished; and therefore he contented himself with bringing it under proper regulations and restrictions. For more on this subject, we refer to St. Matthew as above, as well as to Selden's Treatise de Uxor. Heb. lib. 3: cap. 18. J. Buxtorf de Sponsalib. & Divort. Grotius de Jure B. & P. lib. 2: cap. 5 sect. 9 and a very learned dissertation of the famous Mr. Mosheim, de Divortio.


Verse 4

Ver. 4. Her former husband—may not take her again To restrain them from the abuse of this permission, the law provides, that the husband, who had once put away his wife, should, upon her being married to another, be for ever incapable of having her again. The law considered her as defiled; i.e. unclean, as to her first husband, by having been the wife of a second, and so forbidden to that first. See Acts 10:14-15. This intimates, that if she had not been married to another, but kept herself free, her husband might have taken her again to wife, if he were inclined so to do. Such, at least, is the opinion of Grotius, and several other learned interpreters. Had husbands been allowed to take their wives again, after being married to others, this might have produced the abominable practice of prostitution, by exchanging wives at pleasure, whereby the land would have been filled with pollutions, and the Lord provoked to inflict judgments upon it; and, therefore, the sacred writer adds, for that is abomination, &c. Abarbanel says, that this custom was common among the Egyptians; and Selden observes, that Mahomet permitted his followers to take their wives again, after having been divorced even three times. The Turks, however, are not the only people who were deficient in delicacy upon this point; it is well known, that the Lacedemonians were guilty of shameful pollutions in this way. A person expressing surprise that no adulterers were to be heard of among that people, was answered, that "through the prevalence of the custom now mentioned, their very marriages were rank adulteries." See Grotius on the place.


Verse 6

Ver. 6. No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge This law is of the same merciful kind with that in Exodus 22:26-27 which is repeated in the following verses; and it is founded upon the same equitable and compassionate reasons. On the same account it was, that at Rome they were forbidden to take the oxen or plough of a labourer, for the payment of his debts; and there is the same humane provision in our laws also, which prohibit the distraining of a labouring man's working tools or implements. See Blackstone's Commentaries, Book 3: ch. 1.


Verse 9

Ver. 9. Remember what the Lord thy God did unto Miriam This may be understood, either as an admonition, that they ought not to think much of being shut out of the camp, and going through the appointed purifications for the leprosy, since a person of so much distinction as Miriam was not exempted from that law; or it may be considered as an exhortation, to take care lest they spoke evil of dignities, or disobeyed the command of the priest, which might bring such a stroke upon them as God inflicted upon Miriam.


Verse 15

Ver. 15. At his day thou shalt give him his hire This particularly concerns those who live by their daily labour: they ought to be paid before the sun goes down; all ought to receive their wages, whether labourers or servants, at the time agreed upon; for this is what he setteth his heart upon; or, as the Vulgate has it, for from hence he supports his soul, or life. The bread of the needy is their life, saith the son of Sirach; he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood: he that taketh away his neighbour's living, slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire, is a blood-shedder. Sirach 34:21-22. He sheddeth blood, inasmuch as the wages of the labourer are what supports him, and as, according to the Scripture, the life of man is in his blood. See St. Augustin. Quaest. in Levit. col. 516.


Verse 16

Ver. 16. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers See what we have said respecting this subject on Exodus 20. It is supposed by some, that there was a law in Moses's time, among the AEgyptians, or other neighbour nations, that relations should suffer for the crimes of relations. Thus Ammianus Marcellinus tells us, that by the law of the Persians, in the case of desertion, and some other crimes, the whole kindred perished for the guilt of one, ob noxam unius, omnis propinquitas perit. So we read in Quint. Curt. lib. vi. c. 11. that among the Macedonians, the relations of those who plotted against the king's life were put to death as well as themselves; on the contrary, king Amaziah is praised for not putting to death the sons of his father's murderers; agreeably to this law of Moses, as well as to that maxim of common equity, that, as faults are personal, so ought the punishment to be. See Grotius de Jure B. & P. lib. ii. c. 21


Verse 17

Ver. 17. Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, &c.— Concerning this humane and tender provision for strangers, the fatherless, and widows, we refer to the places in the Margin of our Bibles: only observing, that as persons of this kind are commonly in a more destitute condition than others, therefore all good lawgivers have taken especial care of them, particularly of orphans; concerning whom Plato ordains, that the conservators of the laws should be instead of their natural parents, and look after them so well, that they should not fare the worse for the want of those parents. De Leg. lib. 8:

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 24:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/deuteronomy-24.html. 1801-1803.

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