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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Deuteronomy Chapter 24

Deuteronomy 24:1

deu 24:1

Deu 24:1-5 contain two laws concerning the relation of a man to his wife. The first (Deu 24:1-4) has reference to divorce. In these verses, however, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is, that in case of a divorce a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died. The four verses form a period, in which Deu 24:1-3 are the clauses of the protasis, which describe the matter treated about; and Deu 24:4 contains the apodosis, with the law concerning the point in question. If a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce, because she did not please him any longer, and the divorced woman married another man, and he either put her away in the same manner or died, the first husband could not take her as his wife again. The putting away (divorce) of a wife with a letter of divorce, which the husband gave to the wife whom he put away, is assumed as a custom founded upon tradition. This tradition left the question of divorce entirely at the will of the husband: "if the wife does not find favour in his eyes (i.e., does not please him), because he has found in her something shameful" (Deu 23:15). ערוה, nakedness, shame, disgrace (Isa 20:4; Sa1 20:30); in connection with דּבר, the shame of a thing, i.e., a shameful thing (lxx ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα; Vulg. aliquam faetiditatem). The meaning of this expression as a ground of divorce was disputed even among the Rabbins. Hillel's school interpret it in the widest and most lax manner possible, according to the explanation of the Pharisees in Mat 19:3, "for every cause." They no doubt followed the rendering of Onkelos, פתגם עבירת, the transgression of a thing; but this is contrary to the use of the word ערוה, to which the interpretation given by Shammai adhered more strictly. His explanation of דּבר ערות is "rem impudicam, libidinem, lasciviam, impudicitiam." Adultery, to which some of the Rabbins would restrict the expression, is certainly not to be thought of, because this was to be punished with death.

(Note: For the different views of the Rabbins upon this subject, see Mishnah tract. Gittin ix. 10; Buxtorf, de sponsal. et divort. pp. 88ff.; Selden, uxor ebr. l. iii. c. 18 and 20; and Lightfoot, horae ebr. et talm. ad Matth. v. 31f.)

כּריתת ספר, βιβλίον ἀποστασίου, a letter of divorce; כּריתת, hewing off, cutting off, sc., from the man, with whom the wife was to be one flesh (Gen 2:24). The custom of giving letters of divorce was probably adopted by the Israelites in Egypt, where the practice of writing had already found its way into all the relations of life.

(Note: The rabbinical rules on the grounds of divorce and the letter of divorce, according to Maimonides, have been collected by Surenhusius, ad Mishn. tr. Gittin, c. 1 (T. iii. pp. 322f. of the Mishnah of Sur.), where different specimens of letters of divorce are given; the latter also in Lightfoot, l.c.)

The law that the first husband could not take his divorced wife back again, if she had married another husband in the meantime, even supposing that the second husband was dead, would necessarily put a check upon frivolous divorces. Moses could not entirely abolish the traditional custom, if only "because of the hardness of the people's hearts" (Mat 19:8). The thought, therefore, of the impossibility of reunion with the first husband, after the wife had contracted a second marriage, would put some restraint upon a frivolous rupture of the marriage tie: it would have this effect, that whilst, on the one hand, the man would reflect when inducements to divorce his wife presented themselves, and would recall a rash act if it had been performed, before the wife he had put away had married another husband; on the other hand, the wife would yield more readily to the will of her husband, and seek to avoid furnishing him with an inducement for divorce. But this effect would be still more readily produced by the reason assigned by Moses, namely, that the divorced woman was defiled (הטּמּאה, Hothpael, as in Num 1:47) by her marriage with a second husband. The second marriage of a woman who had been divorced is designated by Moses a defilement of the woman, primarily no doubt with reference to the fact that the emissio seminis in sexual intercourse rendered unclean, though not merely in the sense of such a defilement as was removed in the evening by simple washing, but as a moral defilement, i.e., blemishing, desecration of the sexual communion with was sanctified by marriage, in the same sense in which adultery is called a defilement in Lev 18:20 and Num 5:13-14. Thus the second marriage of a divorced woman was placed implicite upon a par with adultery, and some approach made towards the teaching of Christ concerning marriage: "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery" (Mat 5:32). - But if the second marriage of a divorced woman was a moral defilement, of course the wife could not marry the first again even after the death of her second husband, not only because such a reunion would lower the dignity of the woman, and the woman would appear too much like property, which could be disposed of at one time and reclaimed at another (Schultz), but because the defilement of the wife would be thereby repeated, and even increased, as the moral defilement which the divorced wife acquired through the second marriage was not removed by a divorce from the second husband, nor yet by his death. Such defilement was an abomination before Jehovah, by which they would cause the land to sin, i.e., stain it with sin, as much as by the sins of incest and unnatural licentiousness (Lev 18:25).

Attached to this law, which is intended to prevent a frivolous severance of the marriage tie, there is another in Deu 24:5, which was of a more positive character, and adapted to fortify the marriage bond. The newly married man was not required to perform military service for a whole year; "and there shall not come (anything) upon him with regard to any matter." The meaning of this last clause is to be found in what follows: "Free shall he be for his house for a year," i.e., they shall put no public burdens upon him, that he may devote himself entirely to his newly established domestic relations, and be able to gladden his wife (compare Deu 20:7).

Deuteronomy 24:6

deu 24:6

Various Prohibitions. - Deu 24:6. "No man shall take in pledge the handmill and millstone, for he (who does this) is pawning life." רחים, the handmill; רכב, lit., the runner, i.e., the upper millstone. Neither the whole mill nor the upper millstone was to be asked for as a pledge, by which the mill would be rendered useless, since the handmill was indispensable for preparing the daily food for the house; so that whoever took them away injured life itself, by withdrawing what was indispensable to the preservation of life. The mill is mentioned as one specimen of articles of this kind, like the clothing in Exo 22:25-26, which served the poor man as bed-clothes also. Breaches of this commandment are reproved in Amo 2:8; Job 22:6; Pro 20:16; Pro 22:27; Pro 27:13.

Deu 24:7-9

Repetition of the law against man-stealing (Exo 21:16). - Deu 24:8, Deu 24:9. The command, "Take heed by the plague of leprosy to observe diligently and to do according to all that the priests teach thee," etc., does not mean, that when they saw signs of leprosy they were to be upon their guard, to observe everything that the priests directed them, as Knobel and many others suppose. For, in the first place, the reference to the punishment of Miriam with leprosy is by no means appropriate to such a thought as this, since Miriam did not act in opposition to the priests after she had been smitten with leprosy, but brought leprosy upon herself as a punishment, by her rebellion against Moses (Num 12:10.). And in the second place, this view cannot be reconciled with בּנגע השּׁמר, since השּׁמר with בּ, either to be upon one's guard against (before) anything (Sa2 20:10), or when taken in connection with בּנפשׁ, to beware by the soul, i.e., for the sake of the worth of the soul (Jer 17:21). The thought here, therefore, is, "Be on thy guard because of the plague of leprosy," i.e., that thou dost not get it, have to bear it, as the reward for thy rebellion against what the priests teach according to the commandment of the Lord. "Watch diligently, that thou do not incur the plague of leprosy" (Vulgate); or, "that thou do not sin, so as to be punished with leprosy" (J. H. Michaelis).

Deuteronomy 24:10

deu 24:10

Warning against oppressing the Poor. - Deu 24:10, Deu 24:11. If a loan of any kind was lent to a neighbour, the lender was not to go into his house to pledge (take) a pledge, but was to let the borrower bring the pledge out. The meaning is, that they were to leave it to the borrower to give a pledge, and not compel him to give up something as a pledge that might be indispensable to him.

Deuteronomy 24:12

deu 24:12

And if the man was in distress (עני), the lender was not to lie (sleep) upon his pledge, since the poor man had very often nothing but his upper garment, in which he slept, to give as a pledge. This was to be returned to him in the evening. (A repetition of Exo 22:25-26.) On the expression, "It shall be righteousness unto thee," see Deu 6:25.

Deuteronomy 24:14

deu 24:14

They were not to oppress a poor and distressed labourer, by withholding his wages. This command is repeated here from Lev 19:13, with special reference to the distress of the poor man. "And to it (his wages) he lifts up his soul:" i.e., he feels a longing for it. "Lifts up his soul:" as in Psa 24:4; Hos 4:8; Jer 22:27. On Deu 24:15, see Deu 15:9 and Jam 5:4.

Deuteronomy 24:16

deu 24:16

Warning against Injustice. - Deu 24:16. Fathers were not to be put to death upon (along with) their sons, nor sons upon (along with) their fathers, i.e., they were not to suffer the punishment of death with them for crimes in which they had no share; but every one was to be punished simply for his own sin. This command was important, to prevent an unwarrantable and abusive application of the law which is manifest in the movements of divine justice to the criminal jurisprudence of the lane (Exo 20:5), since it was a common thing among the heathen nations - e.g., the Persians, Macedonians, and others - for the children and families of criminals to be also put to death (cf. Est 9:13-14; Herod. iii. 19; Ammian Marcell. xxiii. 6; Curtius, vi. 11, 20, etc.). An example of the carrying out of this law is to be found in Kg2 14:6; Ch2 25:4. In Deu 24:17, Deu 24:18, the law against perverting the right of strangers, orphans, and widows, is repeated from Exo 22:20-21, and Exo 23:9; and an addition is made, namely, that they were not to take a widow's raiment in pledge (cf. Lev 19:33-34).

Deuteronomy 24:19

deu 24:19

Directions to allow strangers, widows, and orphans to glean in time of harvest (as in Lev 19:9-10, and Lev 23:22). The reason is given in Deu 24:22, viz., the same as in Deu 24:18 and Deu 15:15.

Next: Deuteronomy Chapter 25