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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Deuteronomy 24

 

 

Verses 1-22

EXPOSITION

LAWS RESPECTING DIVORCE, AGAINST MAN-STEALING AND INJUSTICE.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Of divorce. If a man put away his wife because she did not any longer please him, and she became the wife of another man, by whom also she was put away, or from whom she was severed by his death, the first husband might not remarry her, for that would be an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and would bring sin on the land. This is not a law sanctioning or regulating divorce; that is simply assumed as what might occur, and what is here regulated is the treatment by the first husband of a woman who has been divorced a second time.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

These verses should be read as one continuous sentence, of which the protasis is in Deuteronomy 24:1-3, and the apodosis in Deuteronomy 24:4, thus: "If a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she doth not find favor in his eyes, because of some uncleanness in her, and he hath written her a bill of divorcement, and given it in her hand, and sent her out of his house; and if she hath departed out of his house, and hath gone and become another man's; 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 who took her to be his wife, die; her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife," etc.

Deuteronomy 24:1

Because he hath found some uncleanness in her; literally, a thing or matter of nakedness, i.e. some shameful thing, something disgraceful; LXX; ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα: Vulgate, "aliquam foeditatem." In the Targum of Onkelos, the expression is explained by עֲבֵירִת פִתֵגָם; "aliquid foeditatis" (London Polyglot); "iniquitas rei alicujus"(Buxtorf); "the transgression of a [Divine] word" (Levi). On this the school of Hillel among the rabbins put the interpretation that a man might divorce his wife for any unbecomingness (Mishna, 'Gittin,' 9.10), or indeed for any cause, as the Pharisees in our Lord's day taught (Matthew 19:3). The school of Shammai, on the other hand, taught that only for something disgraceful, such as adultery, could a wife be divorced (Lightfoot, 'Her. Hebrews et Talm.,' on Matthew 5:31, Opp; tom. 2.290). Adultery, however, cannot be supposed here because that was punishable with death. A bill of divorcement; literally, a writing of excision; the man and woman having by marriage become one flesh, the divorce of the woman was a cutting of her off from the one whole. Lightfoot has given (loc. cit.) different forms of letters of divorce in use among the Jews (see also Maimonides, 'De Divortiis,' ch. 4. § 12).

Deuteronomy 24:4

The woman was held to be defiled by her second marriage, and thus by implication, the marrying of a woman who had been divorced was pronounced immoral, as is by our Lord explicitly asserted (Matthew 5:32). The prohibition of a return of the wife to her first husband, as well as the necessity of a formal bill of divorcement being given to the woman before she could be sent away, could not fail to be checks on the license of divorce, as doubtless they were intended to be.

Deuteronomy 24:5

A man newly married was to be exempt from going to war, and was not to have any public burdens imposed on him for a year after his marriage. Charged with any business; literally, there shall not pass upon him for any matter; i.e. there shall not be laid on him anything in respect of any business. This is explained by what follows. Free shall he be for his house for one year; i.e. no public burden shall be laid on him, that he may be free to devote himself entirely to his household relations, and be able to cheer and gladden his wife (comp. Deuteronomy 20:7). "By this law God showed how he approved of holy wedlock (as by the former he showed his hatred of unjust divorces) when, to encourage the newly married against the cumbrances which that estate bringeth with it, and to settle their love each to other, he exempted those men from all wars, cares, and expenses, that they might the more comfortably provide for their own estate" (Ainsworth).

Deuteronomy 24:6-14

Various prohibitions.

Deuteronomy 24:6

No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge; rather, the hand mill and the upper millstone (literally, the rider) shall not be taken (literally, one shall not take) in pledge. Neither the mill itself nor the upper millstone, the removal of which would render the mill useless, was to be taken. The upper millstone is still called the rider by the Arabs (Hebrew reehebh, Arabic rekkab). For he taketh a man's life to pledge; or for (thereby) life itself is pledged; if a man were deprived of that by which food for the sustaining of life could be prepared, his life itself would be imperiled (cf. Job 22:6; Proverbs 22:27; Amos 2:8).

Deuteronomy 24:7

Against man-stealing: repetition, with expansion, of the law in Exodus 21:16.

Deuteronomy 24:8, Deuteronomy 24:9

The law concerning the leprosy is in Leviticus 13:1-59; Leviticus 14:1-57. By this law the priests are directed how to proceed with those afflicted with leprosy; and here the people are counseled by Moses to follow the directions of the priests in this case, however painful it might be for them to submit to the restrictions that would be thereby imposed upon them, remembering what the Lord did to Miriam the sister of Moses, how even she was separated from the camp by the express command of God until she was healed (Numbers 12:14). Michaelis, Keil, and others, following the Vulgate ("Observa diligenter ne incurras plagam leprae sed facies quaecunque docuerint to sacerdotes"), understand this passage as inculcating obedience to the priests, lest leprosy should be incurred as a punishment for disobedience. But it is improbable that a general counsel to submit to the priests should be introduced among the special counsels here given; and besides, the formula הִשָּׁמֶר בְ means, "Take heed to yourself in respect of" (cf. 2 Samuel 20:10; Jeremiah 17:21), rather than "Beware of," or "Be on your guard against."

Deuteronomy 24:10-13

If one had to take a pledge from another, he was not to go into the house of the latter and take what he thought fit; he must stand without, and allow the debtor to bring to him what he saw meet to offer. He might stand outside and summon the debtor to produce his pledge, but he was not insolently to enter the house and lay hands on any part of the owner's property. To stand outside and call is still a common mode of seeking access to a person in his own house or apartment among the Arabs, and is regarded as the only respectful mode. There would be thus a mitigation of the severity of the exaction, the tendency of which would be to preserve good feeling between the parties. If the debtor was needy, and being such could give in pledge only some necessary article, such as his upper garment in which he slept at night, the pledge was to be returned ere nightfall, that the man might sleep in his own raiment, and have a grateful feeling towards his creditor. In many parts of the East, with the Arabs notably, it is customary for the poor to sleep in their outer garment. "During the day the poor while at work can and do dispense with this outside raiment, but at night it is greatly needed, even in summer. This furnishes a good reason why this sort of pledge should be restored before night". The earlier legislation (Exodus 22:25, Exodus 22:26) is evidently assumed here as well known by the people. It shall be righteousness unto thee (see on Deuteronomy 6:25).

Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15

The wage of the laborer was to be punctually paid, whether he were an Israelite or a foreigner (cf. Le Deuteronomy 19:13; the law there is repeated here, with a special reference to the distress which the withholding of the hire from a poor man even for a day might occasion).

Deuteronomy 24:16

Among heathen nations it was common for a whole family to be involved in the penalty incurred by the head of the family, and to be put to death along with him. Such severity of retribution is here prohibited in the penal code of the Israelites. Though God, in the exercise of his absolute sovereignty, might visit the sins of the parent upon the children (Exodus 20:5), earthly judges were not to assume this power. Only the transgressor himself was to bear the penalty of his sin (cf. 2 Kings 14:6).

Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:18

The law against perverting the right of strangers, widows, and orphans is here repeated from Exodus 22:20, Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9, with the addition that the raiment of the widow was not to be taken in pledge. To enforce this, the people are reminded that they themselves as a nation had been in the condition of strangers and bondmen in Egypt (cf. Le 19:33, 34).

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

(Cf. Le Deuteronomy 19:9, Deuteronomy 19:10; Deuteronomy 23:23.) Not only was no injustice to be done to the poor, but, out of the abundance of those in better estate, were they to be helped.

Deuteronomy 24:21

Thou shalt not glean it afterward; literally, Thou shalt not glean after thee, i.e. after thou hast reaped and gathered for thyself. It is still the custom among the Arabs for the poor to be allowed to gather the berries that may be left on the olive trees after they have been beaten and the main produce carried off by the owner. All the injunctions in this section are adapted to preserve relations of brotherliness and love among the people of the Lord.

HOMILETICS

Deuteronomy 24:1-5

Permissive legislation.

No treatment of this passage can Be appropriate which does not set it in the light thrown upon it by Matthew 19:1-12. The heading we have given to this outline indicates a point on which special stress should be laid whenever an expositor has occasion to refer to it. In the course of time, men had come to regard this passage in the light of a command. Hence the wording of the question in Matthew 19:7. But our Lord informs us that it was simply permissive. Divorce, under the circumstances here named, was tolerated a while by Moses owing to "the hardness of men's hearts," but that the original Divine arrangement contemplated the indissolubility of marriage. The entire principle of the Mosaic Law was that of educating the people out of a semi-degraded state into something higher, Its method of doing this was by giving the people the best legislation they could bear; tolerating some ill for a while rather than forcing on the people revolutionary methods. The more gentle and gracious, though the slower process, was to sow the seed of higher good, and to let it have time to grow. The following Divine teaching on marriage may well be brought forward with this passage as a basis.

I. That the marriage bond is holy in the eye of God, and ought ever to be recognized as very sacred by man.

II. That by God's own declared appointment this most sacred of all nature's ties is indissoluble.

III. That however, owing to the degeneracy of national habit and thought, civil legislation may suffer the legal cessation of the marriage bond, yet it can in no case be severed, save by death, without heinous sin on one side or on both.

IV. That the claims of married life are such that, with them, not even the exigencies of military service are unduly to interfere (Matthew 19:5).

V. That the highest and purest enjoyments of wedded life come to perfection only when it is entered on and spent in the Lord Jesus Christ. The law was but a παιδαγωγός εἰς χριστὸν (see 1 Corinthians 7:39).

Deuteronomy 24:6-22

Neighborly love and good will to be cultivated in detail.

One golden thread runs through all the varied precepts of this chapter. They are most interesting illustrations, one and all, of the spirit of humanity and of far-reaching wisdom which pervades the Mosaic Law. The following heading include the gist of the several injunctions here given, and show also their relation to each other.

1. Man's "inhumanity to man" is sternly restrained. No Israelite, however poor, is to be kidnapped and sold into foreign slavery (Deuteronomy 24:7).

2. No one might be deprived of the machinery, tools, or implements on the use of which his daily bread depended, for a pledge (Deuteronomy 24:6). It is doubtless to this humane regulation that we owe the ancient common law of this realm, that no man shall be distrained of the necessaries of his trade or profession as long as there are other things on which the distraint can be made.

3. A man's house is to be his castle. No one may enter it, even to fetch a pledge (Deuteronomy 24:10, Deuteronomy 24:11). The exception to this is in the case of leprosy, in which instance the priest had a right to enter a man's house to see into the state of things, i.e. home is to be inviolable save where the public security demands it otherwise. Hence a special caution is given to avoid anything which might bring such a plague upon them. The case of Miriam should be before their eyes (Deuteronomy 24:8, Deuteronomy 24:9).

4. If the poor man has pledged that in which he needs to sleep, it is to be restored to him before sundown (Deuteronomy 24:13).

5. Hired servants were not to be oppressed, but were to have fair and even generous treatment (Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15).

6. The spirit of the checks upon blood-revenge, which are found in connection with the cities of refuge (see Homily thereon), is never to be violated, and no one is to suffer any civil penalty on account of another's sin. Justice is to operate always (Deuteronomy 24:16).

7. No advantage is ever to be taken of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. They who are deprived of earthly helpers on whom they might lean are to find their safeguard in the sentiments of honor and benevolence which pervade the people (Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:18).

8. Not only is no wrong to be done to them, but their aid and comfort are to be specially studied, in the time of harvest, and in the gathering in of the olive and the grape (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

9. The reason for such cultivation of kindness to others is that God had been kind to them (Deuteronomy 24:18, Deuteronomy 24:22).

I. The requirements of God in the social relations of life are righteousness, justice, mercy, love, and good will to all.

II. God has fenced round the poor, the weak, the widow, and the fatherless with a special guard.

III. A wrong done by man to man is sin against God.

IV. The inspiring motive for our showing love to others is the love of God to us (cf. Micah 6:8, Micah 6:9).

HOMILIES BY J. ORR

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Divorce.

The Hebrew Law, "for the hardness of men's hearts," found it was necessary to "suffer" many things not approved of absolutely (Matthew 19:8). Divorce was one of these. It was permitted on grounds of strong personal dislike (Deuteronomy 24:3). The Law was inapplicable to adultery, that being judged a capital offense. While permitting divorce, Moses obviously aims at restricting it, and shows, by his modes of expression, how alien this rupture of the marriage bond is to the original institution. We may learn—

I. THAT THE RIGHT OF DIVORCE IS ONE TO BE STRICTLY GUARDED. Divorce, even where most justified, is a great evil. It is the rupture of a tie intended by the Creator to be indissoluble. Adultery warrants it, but it must be deemed not the least part of the evil that so unhappy a cause for the dissolution of marriage should exist. The revelations of the divorce courts are most injurious to public morality. Facilities for divorce, such as some advocate, would lead to serious mischiefs. Besides being wrong in principle, they would create inconstancy, lead to domestic unhappiness, inflict hardship on children, prevent efforts being made to mend matters by forbearance and. compliance. Frequent divorces blunt the sense of the sacredness of the marriage union, and so lead to licentiousness. "At the time when divorces were most frequent among the Romans marriages were most rare; and Augustus was obliged, by penal laws, to force men of fashion into the married state" (Hume). Moses restrains divorce thus far that he requires it to take place:

1. By means of a legal document.

2. For reason given.

3. He debars the man divorcing from remarrying the woman divorced if, in the interval, she has been married to another. The Christian law recognizes no legitimate ground of divorce save adultery (Matthew 5:32).

II. THAT RIGHT VIEWS ON DIVORCE ARE CONNECTED WITH A SENSE OF THE INHERENT SACREDNESS OF THE MARRIAGE RELATION. This is suggested by the terms employed in verse 4. A husband is prohibited from remarrying his divorced wife if in the interval she has been the wife of another, and the ground given for the prohibition is that "she is defiled." But why "defiled?" The expression could not have been used had the first marriage been regarded as perfectly nullified by the legal divorce. The statement that a divorced woman, remarrying, is "defiled," implies that deep view of the marriage relation given in Genesis (Genesis 2:24), and reiterated by Christ (Matthew 19:3-10). And it will be found, in practice, that light views of the sacredness of the marriage relation invariably work in the direction of increasing facilities for divorce. "The skeptical party in France not long ago proposed to make marriage dissoluble at the pleasure of the parties whenever the woman had passed the age at which child-bearing was no longer to be expected". The writer just quoted ably argues that strict views on marriage, and divorce, are not possible, save under the sanction of a supersensual morality.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 24:5

The man newly married.

The precept is in addition to those in Deuteronomy 20:5-8. It provides that the newly married man shall be left free to enjoy the relation into which he has entered for a whole year, not being required to serve in war, and not being liable to be called from home on public business. It may be inserted here as tending to prevent divorces.

We learn:

1. That it is the duty of the husband to love and cherish the wife (Ephesians 5:29).

2. That it is the interest of the State to do what it can to endear the marriage relation.

3. That laws should be framed in a spirit of kindness, and with consideration for the happiness of the subjects. This law shows kindly consideration for the wife,

Deuteronomy 24:8

Leprosy.

I. A JUDGMENT TO BE DREADED. Leprosy is viewed here, as usually in Scripture:

1. As a stroke of Divine judgment. It was not always such (Job 2:1-13.). Nor did the stroke of Divine judgment always take this form (Uzzah, Jeroboam, Ananias, etc.). But it was a frequent form of punishment for sins of a theocratic nature (Uzziah, Gehazi, etc.). It is seldom safe to interpret judgments (Luke 13:1-6), but we may expect God's stroke in some way to fall upon ourselves if we persistently despise his laws.

2. As a symbol of spiritual corruption. The worst penalty with which God can visit any one is to smite him with soul leprosy, to leave sin to have its natural dominion over him, to allow its corruption to work and spread through his inner man.

II. A WARNING TO BE PONDERED. They are bid remember the case of Miriam. We do well to lay to heart the instances we have known of sin working out punishment and death. Miriam's case suggests the additional thought of pardon on repentance, and of the prevalence of intercession in obtaining forgiveness for offences (Numbers 12:9-16).—J.O.

Deuteronomy 24:6-15

The treatment of the poor.

The helplessness and dependence of the poor expose them to much harsh treatment. The poor man has, however, his Friend and Judge in God, whose Law here steps in for his protection. It ordains—

I. THAT THE NECESSARIES OF LIFE ARE NOT TO BE TAKEN FROM HIM. The millstone (Deuteronomy 24:6). His raiment, which if taken in pledge is to be restored by nightfall (Deuteronomy 24:12, Deuteronomy 24:13). These are considerate provisions. It is the excess of cruelty to press law against a man to the extent of depriving him of the necessaries of life. This would apply to needful clothing, to a bed, to cooking utensils, to the tools by which he earns his bread. It is nearly as bad to receive and keep these things in pledge or pawn. Help, free and ungrudging, should be forthcoming to all honest persons in need, without driving them to such straits. If men will not work, neither should they eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but while this may be a reason for refusing to support them in their indolence, it can be no reason for helping them to strip themselves of the necessaries of their existence. Instead of taking a man's tools from him, he should rather he encouraged to retain and ply them, "working with his hands the thing that is good," that he may both support himself and "have to give to him that needeth" (Ephesians 4:28).

II. THAT HIS PERSONAL FREEDOM IS TO BE RESPECTED. (Deuteronomy 24:7.) No strong or rich neighbor was to be allowed to steal, enslave, or sell him. The stealing of a man was punishable with death. And the spirit of the Law carries us beyond its letter. It requires that we respect the poor man's freedom in all the relations of his life. Whatever the degree of his dependence, it does not entitle another to force his convictions, or do aught that would interfere with the exercise of his rights as man or citizen. Yet how often is compulsion and intimidation applied to those in dependent situations to compel them to act, not as their consciences approve, but as their superiors desire! He who takes advantage of a man's weakness to do anything of the kind is a "man-stealer" in principle and at heart.

III. THAT HIS DWELLING IS NOT TO BE INVADED. (Deuteronomy 24:10, Deuteronomy 24:11.) The fine sense of justice, the delicacy of feeling, in these precepts, is certainly remarkable. The poor man's house is to be as sacred from invasion as the house of the wealthy. Even his creditor is to wait outside, and let the man fetch as his pledge what he can best spare. We are taught a lesson of respect for the domiciliary and proprietary rights of the poor. Many act as if the homes of the poor were not entitled to have their privacy respected in the same way as the homes of the rich, The Law of God teaches otherwise. We owe it to God, and we owe it to the humanity which is in our poorer brethren as well as in us, that we treat them and their belongings with precisely the same amount of respect that we would show to persons in a better social position.

IV. THAT HIS WAGES ARE TO BE PAID WITH REGULARITY. (Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15.) Every day, the text says, and in the East this was necessary. During the Indian famines it was found that the persons engaged on the relief works had to be paid in this manner. Great suffering was sometimes experienced from the neglect of the rule. The law extends to hired service of all kinds, and enjoins in principle regularity in payment of wages. A like principle applies to the payment of tradesmen's accounts. We have heard tradesmen complain bitterly of the inconvenience to which they were subjected from the singular want of consideration displayed by wealthy families in this particular. Accounts are allowed to run on, and payment is withheld, not from want of ability to pay, but from sheer indolence and carelessness in attending to such matters. While to crave payment would, on the tradesman's part, mean the forfeiture of custom.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 24:16-22

Doing justice and loving mercy.

I. EACH SOUL IS TO BEAR ITS OWN SIN. (Deuteronomy 24:16.) This verse lays down the rule of human jurisprudence. Loss and suffering to the innocent, as a result of the course of justice inflicting punishment on the guilty, cannot always be avoided. But this is an incidental, not a designed result. With those wider movements of Divine justice, which seem to turn on the federal constitution of the race, and involve different principles, human justice has nothing to do. The rule for us is that the punishment of crime, with loss and suffering resulting therefrom, is to be confined as much as possible to the guilty person.

II. JUSTICE IS TO BE DONE TO THE WEAKEST. (Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:18.) The stranger and fatherless and widow are again taken under the Law's protection. Their right is not to be perverted. The widow's raiment is not to be taken in pledge. There should need no inducement to do what is right, but Moses reminds the Israelites of their own past condition as bondmen. Oppression is doubly disgraceful when those guilty of it are persons who have themselves tasted its bitterness, or who have themselves been mercifully dealt with (Matthew 18:23-35). We cannot sufficiently admire the combined justice and tenderness of these Mosaic precepts.

III. PROVISION IS TO BE LEFT FOR THE NEEDY. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22.) These are beautiful rules. The Jews were under the Law, but it was a Law the fulfilling of which was "love." The variety of ways in which the Law seeks to instill love into the hearts of the chosen people would form a study eminently suitable for the pulpit. The poor we have always with us, and they should be often in our thoughts. (Southey's poem, 'The Complaints of the Poor.') In the cornfield, among the olives, in the vineyard, they were to be remembered. When the wealthy are gathering in their abundance, then is the time for remembering the needy. Thus will the heart be kept warm, covetousness checked, our own happiness best secured, the wants of the poor supplied, their blessing obtained, a treasure laid up in heaven. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth" (Proverbs 11:24).—J.O.

HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR

Deuteronomy 24:1-6

The rights of women.

The tendency of the true religion has been to secure and respect the rights of women. Now, we have here women's rights brought under notice in two cases—in a case of separation, and in a case of war. Moses, "because of the hardness of their hearts," allowed divorce, because it prevailed to a lamentable extent in society in his time. He suffered them to divorce their wives, but insisted on a written divorce. Among other nations an oral divorce was sufficient, and so a divorce might be from the flimsiest caprice. Again, Moses forbade any coming together as man and wife again, a custom which prevails among the Arabs when the oral divorce is so lightly undertaken. Hence we notice in this law given by Moses—

I. THE DIVORCE OF THE WOMAN MUST BE DELIBERATE AND FINAL. Woman was not to be the toy of man's caprice; she was not to be lightly sent away, and, when sent away by the husband after deliberately writing her divorce, she was never to be taken back again. In this way Moses really consulted the rights of women. They had a right to a deliberate statement of the grounds of their divorce; they had also a right to be protected from further interference on the part of their former husbands. It was a wise expedient considering the degeneracy of the time. It is an improvement assuredly on the arrangements of Mahomet.

Our Lord still further secured the rights of women in ordaining that nothing but infidelity on the part of the wife should dissolve the marriage union (Matthew 5:32).

II. WAR MUST NOT ROB A NEWLY MARRIED WIFE OF HER HUSBAND; SHE HAS A RIGHT TO HIS SOCIETY FOR A YEAR WITHOUT MOLESTATION. This was placing the interests of a single woman above the interests of the State. This was exalting the bride to a throne of highest honor surely. Other systems and the world as well may degrade woman, but God's Law elevates her and enthrones her.

III. NOR IS SHE THROUGH HER HUSBAND'S DIFFICULTIES TO LOSE EITHER OF HER MILLSTONES FOR THE GRINDING OF THE CORN. Here was another right of the housewife. No legal distraint could reach the little mill which ground the corn at home and kept the wolf from the door.

Thus in her sorrows and in her joys God stood her Friend, and insisted on her rights. A similar shield should be thrown over her still. It is by securing her in her rights at home that woman's cause shall he advanced. She is intended to be a queen in the household. Everything that makes her position there more secure, everything that makes the home sacred even from the intrusion of a national war at certain times, everything that makes her feel the foundation firm below her,—is in the interests of public weal. But if she is carelessly thrown into the competition with the stronger sex, she will get deteriorated. The rights of women constitute a much longer subject than even Mr. Mill has made it. £ May the interpreter in due season appear!—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 24:7

Man-stealing a capital crime.

We have already noticed the merciful fugitive law which forbade any one to restore a runaway to his master. That was the cure of existing evil. Here we have the prevention, which is better still. For man-stealing and man-selling are the origin of slavery, and the Lord attaches to this the penalty of death. As Cheerer said of it, "God be praised for this law! It strikes through and through the vitals of this sin." £

I. LIBERTY MUST BE MAINTAINED UNDER THE PENAL SANCTION OF DEATH TO HIM WHO INVADES IT. The ruffian who would steal and sell a brother deserves to die. His treason against the liberty of his fellow is an unpardonable sin against society, and he should get no quarter. No wonder men have fought and died for liberty when God surrounds it with such tremendous sanctions.

II. HOW MUCH GREATER THE CRIME OF BRINGING MEN INTO SPIRITUAL BONDAGE. And this is done daily. What is the meaning of the power exercised by superstitious priesthoods over their devotees? Is it not "spiritual despotism?" And should not the crime of man-stealing awake a suspicion in such hearts that their procedure is the exact analogue in the spiritual sphere? It should be combated and resisted unto the death, as destroying that heritage of liberty with which the Lord has endowed all men.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 24:10-22

Consideration for the poor and needy.

After giving a cursory reference to leprosy as a Divine judgment to be divinely removed and ceremonially purged away (Deuteronomy 24:8, Deuteronomy 24:9), Moses enters in these verses into the consideration which should be shown to the poor and needy. The debtor is not to be pressed for his pledge, and, if raiment, it must be restored in time for him to sleep with due clothing. The hired servant, engaged for the day, is to get his pay punctually at sundown. The widow, fatherless, and strangers are to have justice dealt to them, and in harvest generous gleanings are to be left for them. The Law inculcates consideration and mercy.

I. THE GENEROSITY INCULCATED BY THE LAW MADE IT A MESSAGE OF MERCY TO ALL MEN. For even suppose no sacrificial system preached, typically, the Divine pardon and love, the mercy enjoined upon others argued mercy in the Lawgiver himself. He could not have commanded so much mercy, and manifested none.

II. THE POOR WERE SAVED FROM UTTER MENDICANCY BY THE LIBERALITY OF THE LAW. They got their need supplied by working for it. It was better to glean than to have it laid without any cost or trouble to them at their feet. They were free, and had to bestir themselves; thus self-respect was fostered, and real, wholesome work prescribed. No wonder that mendicancy was unknown. But nowadays things are made too easy for the "ne'er-do-wells," and a laziness that sacrifices self-respect and liberty on its altar is the blessed result!—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 24:16

Responsibility not to be transferred according to human caprice.

We desire to notice this interesting direction. It is a contrast to the second commandment. There, God represents himself as "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." We see it also in the law of heredity operating in nature. But it is a weapon which God retains in his own hand. We may for wise purposes treat men in the lump, and blend in common consequences the innocent and guilty. But man in his judgments must be particular to execute only the guilty.

I. HUMAN JUDGMENTS MUST BE FINAL IN THIS WORLD SO FAR AS THE JUDGING IS CONCERNED. Men do not get the chance of setting matters right in another world. They judge once for all, and if they execute the innocent, they have no reparation in their power.

II. GOD'S IMPERFECT JUSTICE IN THE PRESENT WORLD IS THE CLEAREST INDICATION TO CONSCIENCE THAT THERE WILL BE A JUDGMENT IN THE OTHER WORLD. Were his justice here perfect, or were there no judgment at all, men would say there is nothing to arrange in another world. But now there is enough to show God reigns, and enough left over to indicate a judgment to come. £

III. GOD'S PREROGATIVE OF TRANSFERRING RESPONSIBILITY IS THE SECRET OF OUR SALVATION. For he has laid on Jesus, the Innocent One, the iniquity of us all. He has visited the iniquity of the children upon him who is called our "Everlasting Father." The consequence is we are saved, and in salvation there is ample compensation for all who have to all appearance suffered unjustly here.—R.M.E.

HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES

Deuteronomy 24:5

Nuptial joy.

Joy has its special seasons. The year has but one spring. Human life has but one nuptial feast. The freshness and charm of a first marriage can never be repeated. Around this special joy God has thrown a wall of defense.

I. NUPTIAL JOY IS A CARE OF GOD. In every act of Jesus Christ's earthly life, he could have said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." Thus, when he became a guest at the marriage feast at Cana, he appeared and spake and acted as his Father's Representative. His miraculous deed was the expression of his Father's pleasure. On every honorable marriage the sunshine of Jehovah rests. In all the beginnings of human life God's fatherly interest centers. That human life may be full of joy is his main concern.

II. NUPTIAL JOY IS SUPERIOR EVEN TO CARES OF THE STATE. The marriage union is the spring-time of a man's life; let no rough wind of war blast it! To spoil the nuptial joy is to spoil a man's life. Other things can wait; this fleeting season of a man's history cannot be recalled. Others can fight the battles of his country better than can he; for at such a time his heart will be elsewhere than the battle-field. To send such as he is to invite defeat. It is not simply a permissive law; it is obligatory: he shall not go. To be pressed into military service on his marriage day might sour his temper, exasperate his feelings, dissipate his young love, ruin his earthly home, and blast his domestic prospects. Pious homes are the nursery grounds for God's kingdom.

III. NUPTIAL JOY HAS ITS LIMITATIONS. Such exemption prevailed for a year: then it ceased. The fresh and fragrant spring must give way to fruit-bearing autumn. Joy is a preparation for arduous service. It is worse than useless, if it begets only indolence. It is the parent of new exertion. It recreates the mind. It braces and vitalizes all the active energies. As sleep prepares for labor, so pleasure equips us for higher attainments. We need the spirit of wisdom to use our joys to advantage.—D.

Deuteronomy 24:6, Deuteronomy 24:10-13

Prohibited Pledges.

Wealth is power; in every nation we need the safeguards of law to prevent such power from becoming tyranny. The poor are ever liable to become the prey of voracious avarice.

I. A SEASONABLE LOAN IS A PRICELESS SERVICE, Men can render service one to another in a thousand different forms. Redundance of possession on the part of one may serviceably supply the deficiencies of another. One man has riches which he cannot profitably employ, another has trade for which his money capital is insufficient. One man has accumulated experience, another has penetrative wisdom, another has technical knowledge. All this is equipment for useful service. So, in the spiritual kingdom, one has tender feeling, another has gift of prayer or gift of speech, another has extended influence. All human endowments are a common fund to be distributed for the benefit of all. There are occasions in human life when a loan is more useful than a gift. Temporary exigencies sometimes arise, for which loan, on fitting security, is the wisest alleviation.

II. FOR LOANS SUITABLE PLEDGES SHOULD BE TAKEN.

1. This serves as a check upon facile borrowing. If loans are granted on too easy terms, we may encourage a man in reckless commercial speculation, or destroy the natural checks on personal extravagance.

2. This serves to prevent strife. Borrowers have oftentimes a short memory for liabilities. While human nature has its imperfections and society its scoundrels, it is wiser to have solid guarantee for the redemption of loans, and honest borrowers will not object to give suitable pledges for honesty.

3. Pledges are needed on the ground of uncertain mortality. "We know not what a day may bring forth."

III. PLEDGES WHICH TOUCH A MAN'S LIFE ARE PROHIBITED. Money-getting is never to be so pressed as to impinge on the domain of life. Human life is a sacred thing, and must not be trifled with. It has latent capabilities, and may yet become a source of blessing to myriads. Gain becomes as the small dust, an inappreciable thing, when placed in the balance against a human life. The gold of a continent is a bubble in comparison with a man's soul.

IV. GENEROUS SURRENDER OF POVERTY'S PLEDGES AN ACT OF PIETY. Pledges are telltales of common dishonesty. If truthfulness and honor were as prevalent as they ought to be, no pledge would be needed. A man's word ought to be as good as his pledge. It often does a man good if we make his honor the only pledge. He is ennobled by our confidence. He rises in self-respect. Debts of honor are often paid prior to those which have material security. If we form a high estimate of men, they will often strive to reach the ideal. Generous treatment of the poor secures their warmest interest on our behalf. The poorest of the poor has still access to the audience-chamber of the heavenly palace. Their simple suit on our behalf will sometimes secure blessings which no arithmetic can measure. Deeds of kindness done to the indigent are done to God, for God identifies himself with them. "He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord." If the concession he an act of sterling love, pure from the alloy of selfishness, it is an act of righteousness—the fruit of the Divine Spirit's grace. This is not self-righteousness, for genuine love to men is a gracious affection. It does not begin with self; it does not terminate in self. God is its object; hence it shall be counted for righteousness. As Abraham's faith counted for righteousness, so does also genuine love.—D.

Deuteronomy 24:7

Slave-traffic a capital offence.

Slavery, in modified form, has always prevailed in Eastern lands; and, with prudent limitations, was tolerated among the Hebrews. To promulgate laws for men, which transcended their moral sense, would defeat the ends of law. God has continually to lead men from lower levels to higher. A man may voluntarily sell his liberty for a time. But to deprive a man of liberty by violence is a scarlet sin; and man-stealing is rightly branded with the deepest indignation of God.

I. LIBERTY IS ESSENTIAL TO MAN'S FULLEST LIFE. Any form of bondage is a curtailment of life, a mutilation of the man. His outward condition may be bettered. He may have more food and warmer clothing and a healthier home, but the real man is injured. He is not fully susceptible of self-development. The springs of life are poisoned. He learns to despise himself, and to despise oneself is a step on the slippery road to ruin. Yet liberty is a human right not well understood. It must be distinguished from license. True liberty has its limits and its checks. A man is at liberty to part with his liberty for a time. Every man who toils for his bread is compelled to do this. Yet even this temporary cessation of his liberty must be voluntary.

II. TO DEPRIVE A MAN FORCIBLY OF HIS LIBERTY IS TO DEPRIVE HIM OF HIS LIFE. The life of the body is not the whole of a man's life. The intellect, affections, choice, will, have a life more precious than the life of the body. To steal a man or to kidnap a child is to interfere, wantonly and injuriously, with the proper life of the person. The outward conditions of training and probation are not such as God ordained. The man's eternal prospects, as well as his earthly possibilities, are blighted. And all this moral damage is done for paltry gain. The man who can lend himself to such a business as slave-mongering is lost to all goodness, lost to shame. He is a disgrace to the human species—a tool of Satan.

III. FOR SUCH A CRIME THE GOD-APPOINTED PENALTY IS DEATH. No heavier penalty is imposed by the civil magistrate, because no heavier penalty is possible. Such a monster must be removed from the scenes of human society, because his presence is pestilential, demoralizing, deadly. Where human judgment ends, God's judgment begins. Such a one is hurried before the higher court of heaven, is arraigned before the great white throne of the Eternal, and fullest justice will here be meted out. My soul, be thou free from such taint as this!—D.

Deuteronomy 24:8, Deuteronomy 24:9

Leprosy symbolic.

God has intended the material world to be a schoolhouse, and every event a vehicle of moral instruction. The sick-chamber may become an audience-room, where lessons of heavenly wisdom are conveyed by the Spirit of truth. Leprosy was singled out by God to be a visible picture of sin; so that "out of the eater there might come forth meat." Out of seeming evil, good can be distilled.

I. LEPROSY HAD A RELIGIOUS CHARACTER. More was meant by the infliction than was seen by the bodily eye. It was mysterious in its origin, and irresistible in its progress. It gradually spread and covered the whole man. It touched and injured every faculty. The intention was salutary, viz. to lead the sufferer's thoughts to the discovery of a deeper malady, and to awaken desire for a more enduring cure. The outward is an index of the inward. Leprosy is a type and picture of sin.

II. LEPROSY REQUIRED RELIGIOUS TREATMENT. It was vain to seek the offices of an ordinary physician. Earthly remedy was and still is unknown. The sufferer was required to visit the priest. Direct application to God was to be made. Meanwhile, the leper was to be completely isolated. He might not consort with his fellows. Hereby he might learn the disastrous effects of sin, viz. in disintegrating society; and hereby he might in solitude mourn over sin, and seek its cure. The only possibility of the removal of leprosy was in religious obedience. Every part of the prescription was furnished by God, and was to be applied by God's ministers. Completest submission was a condition of cure.

III. LEPROSY, IN ITS CAUSE AND CURE, HAD AN HISTORIC TYPE. This type was furnished by Miriam. Her specific sin was known; it was insubordination to authority. Her chastisement was sudden. It came direct from God in the form of leprosy. The injured man became her intercessor. God graciously responded to the suit of Moses. Temporary separation and strict seclusion were the method of cure. Golden lessons lie here. Every leper may confidently follow this indication of God's will. If he healed Miriam, can he not also heal me?

IV. LEPROSY HEALED WAS CHARGED WITH RELIGIOUS OBLIGATIONS. As a healed man will cheerfully recompense the physician for his pains, so God required the restored leper to express his gratitude in the form of animal sacrifice. His gratitude could not be expressed in empty words. He was not permitted to bring that "which cost him nothing." In the slaughter of the devoted victim, the grateful man would confess that he himself had deserved to die, and that God had permitted a substitute. If the man were fully penitent, the sight of the dying substitute would vividly impress his heart with a sense of God's mercy. In every arrangement which God made, the good of man was sought. The method will often seem strange to our dim vision, but respecting the beneficent end there can be no question.—D.

Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15

Omitted duty ripens into curse.

Thoughtlessness is a flimsy excuse for neglected duty. It is a sin to be thoughtless. One talent is buried in the earth. In proportion to the mischief produced is the punishment thereof.

I. WE HAVE HERE A CASE OF OBLIGATION FULLY MATURED.

1. The rich is debtor to the poor. Obligation between the several ranks of society is equal. The rich rely for many services upon the poor. The king depends upon the cook. The laborer gives his strength, the employer contributes his money. There is as much obligation on the one side as on the other.

2. At a fixed point of time the obligation is matured. Henceforth the neglect of the obligation becomes sin. My obligations today differ from those of yesterday. The element of time plays an important part. Obligations grow.

3. Obligations are implied as well as expressed. Custom is unwritten law. Riches carry with them no warrant for arrogance. Riches have cursed the man if they have made him churlish.

II. NEGLECTED OBLIGATION ENTAILS UNKNOWN MISERY. We cannot follow the effects of thoughtlessness into all their intricate ramifications and to their utmost issues. What would be regarded as a trivial disappointment on the part of one man may be an agony of pain to another. Wages expected and deferred may mean to a needy laborer pinching hunger, not only to himself, but to feeble wife and to helpless babes. A gloomy and sleepless night may follow. Bitter and angry feelings may be engendered. Faith in human integrity may be lost. Self-restraint may vanish. For want of a nail a shoe was lost, a battle was lost, ay, an empire fell!

III. NEGLECTED OBLIGATION MAY BRING HEAVY CURSE UPON THE CULPRIT. It is not safe to treat any human being with contempt, especially the poor. God is the avowed Champion of such. The command, "Honor all men," is as binding as "Thou shalt not steal." The cry of the injured man in his distress is sure to pierce the skies. The ear of God is specially attent to his children's suffering cry, even as a mother catches the plaintive wail of her firstborn infant. Swiftly God attaches himself to the side of the oppressed, and takes upon himself the burden. The injustice done to the man becomes an insult done to God. The deed alters in its character, intensifies in its immorality, becomes heinous sin. Vials of wrath are preparing for the head of the unthinking transgressor. It will be as the sin of blasphemy or of murder unto them.—D.

Deuteronomy 24:16-18

Public justice to be pure.

Unseen principles of justice lie at the foundation of human society, and if rottenness and decay appear in these foundations, the social structure will soon topple and fall. Visible prosperity is built upon invisible justice. In the absence of justice, property becomes untenable, commerce vanishes, peace spreads her wings for flight. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

I. THE MAGISTRATE'S TEMPTATION. Human nature, at its best, is accessible by temptation; and it is well that from the eyes of the nation a fierce light beats upon the judicial bench. If only the ear of the judge be open to the fascinating voice of self-advantage, if his hand be open to a bribe, wickedness will put on the most ravishing charms to deflect him from his duty. Because he occupies a seat so conspicuous, temptation selects him as a special target for her poisoned arrows. Yet even for temptation he may rejoice, for according to his trials should be his moral triumphs. Avarice may tempt him. Love of ease may tempt him. His own tastes and predilections may tempt. The praise of the powerful may tempt. He will become either the stronger or the weaker for the discipline, will grow in moral courage or in cowardice.

II. THE MAGISTRATE'S QUALIFICATION. The qualification for the judicial throne is ardent love of justice. As only a wise man can be a teacher, so only a just man can be a true judge. No matter what may be the nationality of the litigants, no matter what their color, social rank, or sex, every one has an inherent claim on public justice. To pervert judgment is to arouse all the elements of wrath in heaven and earth. The judge is the visible exponent of justice; he wears the garb of justice, and if in him there dwells not the soul of justice, he is a sham and a pretence. Heart devotion to public justice is the only anchor that can hold him fast amid those currents and whirlpools of evil influences which ever surge around him. Things unseen are the most potent.

III. THE MAGISTRATE'S RULE OF ACTION. This is clearly made known to him by God, viz. that punishment is to be personal, not corporate. The child is not to die for the father. Where there is corporate guilt there must be corporate punishment. But this is no contravention of the rule. The inducement is often great to release oneself from the pains of unraveling a complicated suit; or, if relatives of the accused seem to be accessories to an evil deed, a judge is often tempted to embrace all the suspected family in one punishment. The light of truth is to be his only guide; love of justice his compass; the revealed will of God his chart. To him human life is to be held a sacred thing; not one life is to be needlessly sacrificed. It is a sad fact that judges have been amongst the greatest criminals; they have slain many innocent men.

IV. THE MAGISTRATE'S INSPIRING MOTIVE. Many motives may wisely influence him. He, too, must appear before a higher tribunal, and submit his whole life to judicial light. But the motive here pressed upon him is gratitude derived from past experience. The history of his nation is to mold his character and to teach him the value of human justice. He is expected to sympathize with the oppressed, to enter into their griefs, because he is a part of a nation that has felt the sharp scourge of oppression. He has learnt by national experience that, when justice by man is denied, God appears in court and champions the cause of the oppressed. He is the representative of a nation that has been redeemed. He himself is a ransomed one, and is under peculiar obligation to serve his Deliverer. His time, his capacity, his legal knowledge, his influence are not his own; he is redeemed, and belongs to another. Past deliverances are not to be lost upon us, or we are lost. To forget the lessons of the past is self-injury, yea, is heinous sin. In every station and office fidelity is demanded.—D.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

Autumn generosity.

If a man is not generous towards his poorer neighbors in time of harvest, he will never be generous. If the profuse generosity of God be lavished upon him in vain, his moral nature must be hard indeed. As men "make hay while the sun shines," so should we yield to benevolent impulses while God surrounds us with sunshine of kindness. As we are undeserving recipients, we should share our unpurchased bounty with others.

I. WE HAVE HERE A FITTING OCCASION FOR GENEROSITY. God supplies us with fitting seasons for getting good and for doing good. It is not always autumn. We cannot gather corn and olives when we please. We have to wait the arrival of the season, and this season is God's provision. We must gather then or verse Opportunity can never be trifled with. If abundance has been put into our bands, let us forthwith use it well, or it may be suddenly taken from us. If an unusual generous impulse be upon us, it is wisest to respond to it freely, to give it largest scope, for this is a visit of God to us for good.

II. FITTING OBJECTS FOR GENEROSITY ARE PROVIDED. Were it not for the existence of the poor, there would be no outlet for generosity in a practical and material form. There would be no discipline for the best part of our nature. It would be a pain and a loss to us if the instinct of benevolence within us found no field for its exercise. Thankful ought we to be that the poor shall not cease out of the land. The fatherless and the widow come to us as the sent of God, to loosen the sluices of our generosity, and to do us good. We are almoners of God's royal bounty.

III. DELICATE PLANS FOR CONVEYING GENEROSITY. The finer forces of our bodily nature are conveyed to every part by most delicate, almost invisible, ducts. Nerve-power is distributed from the center to the circumference by minutest channels. So, too, should we employ the most refined delicacy in relieving the necessities of the poor. Let not our gift be spoilt by any assumption of superiority, nor by any arrogant rudeness. It is a noble thing to respect the manly feelings of the poor, and to touch with fairy finger the sensibilities of the suffering. We are to study, not only how much we can give, but especially how best to give it. From the harvest-field and the olive-grove we may learn this delicacy of kindness. Both the quantity and the quality of our service are important in God's esteem.

IV. THE POTENT MOTIVE TO GENEROSITY. Remembrance of their own redemption was the mighty motive for all good deeds. This is the constant refrain of God's message. As God is not wearied in reiterating the lesson, neither should we be wearied in hearing it. We are the objects of God's tenderest love. He has set in motion his most prodigious energies to rescue us from misery. He has emptied his treasury of blessings so as to enrich us, and the end for which he has enriched us is that we may enrich others. Ye have been ineffably blessed, do you bless in return.—D.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 24:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/deuteronomy-24.html. 1897.

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