If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:
Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:The elders represented the citizens at large, the judges the magistracy: priests Deuteronomy 21:5 from the nearest priestly town, were likewise to be at hand. Thus, all classes would be represented at the purging away of that blood-guiltiness which until removed attached to the whole community.
And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;The requirements as regards place and victim are symbolic. The heifer represented the murderer, so far at least as to die in his stead, since he himself could not be found. As hearing his guilt the heifer must therefore be one which was of full growth and strength, and had not yet been ceremonially profaned by human use. The Christian commentators find here a type of Christ and of His sacrifice for man: but the heifer was not strictly a sacrifice or sin-offering. The transaction was rather figurative, and was so ordered as to impress the lesson of Genesis 9:5.
And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley:Eared - i. e., plowed; compare Genesis 45:6 note and references. The word is derived from the Latin, and is in frequent use by English writers of the fifteenth and two following centuries.
Strike off the heifer's neck - Rather, "break its neck" (compare Exodus 13:13). The mode of killing the victim distinguishes this lustration from the sin-offering, in which there would be of course shedding and sprinkling of the blood.
And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley:
And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.
So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD.
When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,The regulations which now follow in the rest of this and throughout the next chapter bring out the sanctity of various personal rights and relations fundamental to human life and society.
And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;The shaving the head (a customary sign of purification, Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 8:7), and the putting away "the garment of her captivity," were designed to signify the translation of the woman from the state of a pagan and a slave to that of a wife among the covenant-people. Consistency required that she should "pare" (dress, compare 2 Samuel 19:24), not "suffer to grow," her nails; and thus, so far as possible, lay aside everything belonging to her condition as an alien.
And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.Bewail her father and her mother a full month - This is prescribed from motives of humanity, that the woman might have time and leisure to detach her affections from their natural ties, and prepare her mind for new ones.
And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.Thou shalt not make merchandise of her - Rather, thou shalt not constrain her: literally "treat her with constraint," or "treat her as a slave."
If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:Moses did not originate the rights of primogeniture (compare Genesis 25:31), but recognized them, since he found them pre-existing in the general social system of the East. Paternal authority could set aside these rights on just grounds Genesis 27:33, but it is forbidden here to do so from mere partiality.
Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:The formal accusation of parents against a child was to be received without inquiry, as being its own proof. Thus the just authority of the parents is recognized and effectually upheld (compare Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9); but the extreme and irresponsible power of life and death, conceded by the law of Rome and other pagan nations, is withheld from the Israelite father. In this, as in the last law, provision is made against the abuses of a necessary authority.
Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:There were four methods of execution in use among the ancient Jews; stoning (Exodus 17:4; Deuteronomy 13:10, etc.), burning Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9, the sword Exodus 32:27, and strangulation. The latter, though not named in Scripture, is regarded by the rabbis as the most common, and the proper one to be adopted when no other is expressly enjoined by the Law. Suspension, whether from cross, stake, or gallows, was not used as a mode of taking life, but was sometimes added after death as an enhancement of punishment. Pharaoh's chief baker Genesis 40:19 was hanged after being put to death by the sword; and similarly Joshua appears Joshua 10:26 to have dealt with the five kings who made war against Gibeon. Compare also Numbers 25:4.
His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.He that is hanged is accursed of God - i. e. "Bury him that is hanged out of the way before evening: his hanging body defiles the land; for God's curse rests on it." The curse of God is probably regarded as lying on the malefactor because, from the fact of his being hanged, be must have been guilty of a especially atrocious breach of God's covenant. Such an offender could not remain on the face of the earth without defiling it (compare Leviticus 18:25, Leviticus 18:28; Numbers 35:34). Therefore after the penalty of his crime had been inflicted, and he had hung for a time as a public example, the holy land was to be at once and entirely delivered from his presence. See Galatians 3:13 for Paul's quotation of this text and his application of it.