Deuteronomy 21:4
And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer to a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley:
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Deuteronomy 21:4. Unto a rough valley — The Hebrew word נחל, nachal, here used, signifies either a valley or a torrent; and most probably is here meant of a valley with a brook running through it. For (Deuteronomy 21:6) the elders are required to wash their hands over the heifer, which seems to intimate that there was running water in the place. Which is neither eared nor sown — Rough, uncultivated ground, fitly representing the horribleness of the murder. The Jews say, that unless, after this, the murderer was found, this valley was never to be tilled nor sown, which made the owners of the ground employ their utmost diligence to find out the murderer, that their land might not be waste for ever. But it is more natural to suppose, that such a rough and waste place was chosen partly that the horridness of it might beget a horror of the murder, and of the murderer, and partly because the blood of the victim would have polluted cultivated ground. For, though not slain at the altar, this was a kind of expiatory sacrifice, whereby the land was to be purged from the legal pollution contracted by the murder; and such sacrifices rendered every person or thing unclean that touched them. Shall strike off the heifer’s neck — To show what they should and would have done to the murderer, if they had found him.21:1-9 If a murderer could not be found out, great solemnity is provided for putting away the guilt from the land, as an expression of dread and detesting of that sin. The providence of God has often wonderfully brought to light these hidden works of darkness, and the sin of the guilty has often strangely found them out. The dread of murder should be deeply impressed upon every heart, and all should join in detecting and punishing those who are guilty. The elders were to profess that they had not been any way aiding or abetting the sin. The priests were to pray to God for the country and nation, that God would be merciful. We must empty that measure by our prayers, which others are filling by their sins. All would be taught by this solemnity, to use the utmost care and diligence to prevent, discover, and punish murder. We may all learn from hence to take heed of partaking in other men's sins. And we have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, if we do not reprove them.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.


De 21:1-9. Expiation of Uncertain Murder.

1-6. If one be found slain … lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him—The ceremonies here ordained to be observed on the discovery of a slaughtered corpse show the ideas of sanctity which the Mosaic law sought to associate with human blood, the horror which murder inspired, as well as the fears that were felt lest God should avenge it on the country at large, and the pollution which the land was supposed to contract from the effusion of innocent, unexpiated blood. According to Jewish writers, the Sanhedrin, taking charge of such a case, sent a deputation to examine the neighborhood. They reported to the nearest town to the spot where the body was found. An order was then issued by their supreme authority to the elders or magistrates of that town, to provide the heifer at the civic expense and go through the appointed ceremonial. The engagement of the public authorities in the work of expiation, the purchase of the victim heifer, the conducting it to a "rough valley" which might be at a considerable distance, and which, as the original implies, was a wady, a perennial stream, in the waters of which the polluting blood would be wiped away from the land, and a desert withal, incapable of cultivation; the washing of the hands, which was an ancient act symbolical of innocence—the whole of the ceremonial was calculated to make a deep impression on the Jewish, as well as on the Oriental, mind generally; to stimulate the activity of the magistrates in the discharge of their official duties; to lead to the discovery of the criminal, and the repression of crime.

Neither eared nor sown; partly to represent the hard and unprofitable and untutored heart of the murderer; and partly that such a desert and horrid place might beget a horror of murder and of the murderer.

Strike off the heifer’s neck, to show what they would and should have done to the murderer if they had found him. The elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley,.... Cities being generally built on hills, and so had adjacent valleys, to which there was a descent; but here a rough valley, or the rougher part of it, was selected for this purpose. As a valley is low, and this a rough one, it may be an emblem of Christ's being brought into this lower world, from heaven to earth, to do the will of his Father, which was to work out the salvation of his people; and of his coming into the lower parts of the earth, the womb of the virgin, at his incarnation, and to the grave at his death, Psalm 139:15, and of the low estate he came into by the assumption of human nature; through appearing in the form of a servant, being in indigent circumstances, and ministered to by others, and needing the assistance of angels in the wilderness and garden, by which it appeared he was made lower than they; by his being despised of men, and forsaken by his Father; all which are proofs of the low estate he was brought into, fitly signified by a valley, and which was a rough valley to him; in which he was roughly treated, his life being sought after in his infancy by Herod, which obliged the flight of his parents with him into Egypt; and being not received, but rejected by his own, as the King Messiah, whom they would not have to reign over them, and loaded with opprobrious names by them; and who often sought and attempted by various ways to take away his life; and when apprehended and examined before the high priest, and in Pilate's hall, was used in the rudest manner, being spit upon, buffeted, and scourged; and when led out to be crucified, was treated in the most barbarous and scornful manner, and was put to death in the most painful and shameful way; and, above all, was severely handled by the justice of God, being numbered among the transgressors, when the sword of justice was awaked against him, and he was not in the least spared, but wrath came upon him to the uttermost for the sins of his people; so that this world he was brought into proved a rough valley indeed to him. This some take to be an emblem of the hard heart of the murderer who had committed such a barbarous and cruel action as to kill a man; or of the hard heart of a sinner, into which Christ is brought through the ministry of the word; or of the infamous place, Calvary, where Christ was brought to suffer death; but the former is best. Some interpret it, a "strong stream" (q), or "rapid torrent"; so Maimonides (r) and others; and indeed in valleys there are generally streams or brooks of water, but this seems not so well to agree with what follows:

which is neither cared nor sown; that is, neither ploughed nor sown, but quite an uncultivated place; and this the Jews understand not of what it had been, or then was, but what it should be hereafter; that from henceforward it should never be manured, but lie barren and useless; so it is said in the Misnah (s), the place is forbid sowing or tilling, but is free to dress flax in, or to dig stones out of it: so R. Joseph Kimchi (t) interprets this of a fat and fruitful valley, which was not to be tilled nor sown from thenceforward for time to come; the reason of which he thinks was, that they might be the more careful of their countries and borders, and how they encouraged bloody minded men to dwell among them; that no slain person might be found there, and so they lose a choice part of their possessions; and to the same purpose Maimonities (u): and this became true of the fruitful land of Judea and Jerusalem, after the sufferings and death of Christ there, Luke 21:24.

and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley; with an axe, on the back part of it, in the midst of the valley, as the Targum of Jonathan, and the same is said in the Misnah (w): in this it was a type of Christ, who was put to death at the instigation of the elders of the Jewish nation, Matthew 27:1 and without the gates of Jerusalem at Golgotha; see Hebrews 13:11.

(q) "ad torrentem fortem", Montanus. (r) Hilchot Rotzeach, c. 9. sect. 2, so Abarbinel in Muis. & Ben Melech. (s) Ut supra. (Sotah, c. 9. sect. 5.) (t) Apud D. Kimchi, Sepher Shorash, rad. (u) Moreh Nevochim, par. 3. c. 40. (w) Ut supra. (Sotah, c. 9. sect. 5.)

And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough {b} valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley:

(b) That the blood shed of the innocent beasts in a solitary place, might make them abhor the fact.

4. the elders of that city] Luc. omits.

a valley with running water] i.e. with a perennial brook, cp. Amos 5:24 (and see Driver’s note here). The running water is usually explained as meant to carry off the blood, but no blood is mentioned; unless it was so in the original law (see introd. note). The primitive idea was rather the checking of a demon or of the spirit of the slain man. Cp. the belief in the preference of spirits for dry places (Luke 11:24) and their aversion to running water (in modern times that ghosts cannot cross bridges, e.g. Tam o’ Shanter).

neither plowed nor sown] therefore unprofaned by common use, and so meet for a solemn rite. Dillm. (after Ewald): ‘that the soaked-in blood of the beast, vicariously killed, may not hereafter be uncovered by the cultivation of the ground but rather washed away by the brook.’ See however, the previous note. Some object the impossibility of finding an uncultivated valley with a running stream, but there are many such.

shall break the heifer’s neck] The same procedure as J, Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20, enjoins for the firstling of an ass not redeemed; cp. Isaiah 66:3, of a dog. In these cases there does not appear to have been shedding of the blood such as took place in all sacrifices proper. This is singular if the killing of the heifer was a piaculum. In the original ceremony was it only conceived as a piece of sympathetic magic, symbolic of the execution of the murderer, and did D transform this into an expiation? Or, conversely, was the original ceremony a sacrifice, and did D, on his principle that sacrifice was valid only at the One Altar, reduce it to the level of the treatment of the firstling of an ass? In Leviticus 4:13-21 (P), the piaculum for an inadvertent sin of the whole congregation, it is also the elders who slay the victim.Verse 4. - A rough valley; literally, a stream of perpetuity, a perennial stream (cf. Psalm 74:15, Authorized Version, "mighty rivers;" Amos 5:24); but here rather the valley or wady through which a stream flowed, as is evident from its being described as neither eared - that is, ploughed (literally, wrought, tilled) - nor sown; a place which had not been profaned by the hand of man, but was in a state of nature. "This regulation as to the locality in which the act of expiation was to be performed was probably founded on the idea that the water of the brook-valley would suck in the blood and clean it away, and that the blood sucked in by the earth would not be brought to light again by the ploughing and working of the soil" (Keil). Strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley; rather, break the heifer's neck. As this was not an act of sacrifice, for which the shedding of blood would have been required, but simply a symbolical representation of the infliction of death on the undiscovered murderer, the animal was to be killed by breaking its neck (cf. Exodus 13:13). It was in this way that Israel was to act with towns that were far off; but not with the towns of the Canaanites ("these nations"), which Jehovah gave them for an inheritance. In these no soul was to be left alive; but these nations were to be laid under the ban, i.e., altogether exterminated, that they might not teach the Israelites their abominations and sins (cf. Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Deuteronomy 12:31). כּל־נשׁמה, lit., every breath, i.e., everything living, by which, however, human beings alone are to be understood (comp. Joshua 10:40; Joshua 11:11, with Deuteronomy 11:14).
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