Deuteronomy 21:5
And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD your God has chosen to minister to him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Deuteronomy 21:5-6. By their word shall every controversy be tried — That is, every one of this kind, every one that shall arise about any stroke, whether such a mortal stroke as is here spoken of, or any other, or wound given by one man to another. In these matters they shall give sentence, being consulted by the elders or judges of the cities, Deuteronomy 17:9-12. The elders shall wash their hands — Protesting their innocence, says a learned Jewish writer, (Chazkuni,) in these words: “As our hands are now clean, so are we innocent of the blood which has been shed.” See an allusion to this, Psalm 26:6; Matthew 27:24.21:1-9 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.

CHAPTER 21

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.

The priests shall come near, both to direct them in all the circumstances of action and to see that the law was observed, and to bless them in God’s name, by praying for them, and absolving or pronouncing them guiltless in this matter.

Every controversy; not absolutely all manner of controversies that could possibly arise, as if their word were to determine whether there were a God or providence or no, whether God should be worshipped, and his commands observed, or no, whether Moses was a true prophet or an impostor, whether apostate and idolatrous Israelites should be punished or no, which is apparently absurd and ridiculous; but every such controversy as might arise about the matter here spoken of; nothing being more usual than to understand universal expressions in a limited sense; and indeed this is limited and explained by the following words,

and every stroke, the particle and being put expositively, of which instances have been formerly given, i.e. every controversy which shall arise about any stroke, whether such a mortal stroke as is here spoken of, a murder, which may well be called a stroke, as to smite is oft used for to kill, as Genesis 4:15 Leviticus 24:17, &c., or any other stroke or wound given by one man to another. And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near,.... Who were clearly of the tribe of Levi, as Aben Ezra notes; about whom there could be no dispute; for it seems there sometimes were persons in that office, of whom there was some doubt at least whether they were of that tribe; these seem to be such that belonged to the court of judicature at Jerusalem; see Deuteronomy 17:9, who were to be present at this solemnity, to direct in the performance of it, and to judge and determine in any matter of difficulty that might arise:

for them the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister unto him; in the service of the sanctuary, by offering sacrifices, &c.

and to bless in the name of the Lord; the people; see Numbers 6:23.

and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried; every controversy between man and man respecting civil things, and every stroke or blow which one man may give another; and whatsoever came before them was tried by them, according to the respective laws given concerning the things in question, and were not determined by them in an arbitrary way, according to their own will and pleasure; see Deuteronomy 17:8.

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:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. the priests the sons of Levi shall come near] The same vb as of the priest in Deuteronomy 20:2, R.V. approach. The appearance of the priests is remarkable, for they have nothing else to do in the ceremony. They have been introduced, then, either by D or, since they are not designated by D’s usual title for them (the priests the Levites), by an editor who, under the later priestly conceptions, cannot imagine such a ceremony without them. The rest of the v. reads as though the insertor gave it as his reason for bringing them in. For the formulas of which it consists see on Deuteronomy 10:8, Deuteronomy 17:8; Deuteronomy 17:12, Deuteronomy 18:5.Verse 5. - And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near. The presence of the priests at this ceremony was due to their position as the servants of Jehovah the King of Israel, on whom it devolved to see that all was done in any matter as his Law prescribed. The priests present were probably those from the nearest Levitical town. And by their word shall every controversy and every stroke he tried; literally, And upon their mouth shall be every strife and every stroke, i.e. by their judgment the character of the act shall be determined, and as they decide so shall the matter stand (cf. Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 17:8). In the present case the presence of the priests at the transaction gave it sanction as valid. When they besieged a town a long time to conquer it, they were not to destroy its trees, to swing the axe upon them. That we are to understand by עצהּ the fruit-trees in the environs and gardens of the town, is evident from the motive appended: "for of them (ממּנּוּ refers to עץ as a collective) thou eatest, and thou shalt not hew them down." The meaning is: thou mayest suppress and destroy the men, but not the trees which supply thee with food. "For is the tree of the field a man, that it should come into siege before thee?" This is evidently the only suitable interpretation of the difficult words השּׂדה עץ האדם כּי, and the one which has been expressed by all the older commentators, though in different ways. But it is one which can only be sustained grammatically by adopting the view propounded by Clericus and others: viz., by pointing the noun האדם with ה interrog., instead of האדם, and taking אדם as the object, which its position in the sentence fully warrants (cf. Ewald, 324, b. and 306, b.). The Masoretic punctuation is founded upon the explanation given by Aben Ezra, "Man is a tree of the field, i.e., lives upon and is fed by the fruits of the trees," which Schultz expresses in this way, "Man is bound up with the tree of the field, i.e., has his life in, or from, the tree of the field," - an explanation, however, which cannot be defended by appealing to Deuteronomy 24:6; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Ezekiel 12:10, as these three passages are of a different kind. In no way whatever can האדם be taken as the subject of the sentence, as this would not give any rational meaning. And if it were rendered as the object, in such sense as this, The tree of the field is a thing or affair of man, it would hardly have the article.
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