Deuteronomy 25:1
If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
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Deuteronomy 25:1-3. HUMANITY IN PUNISHMENTS.

(1) They shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.—“I will not justify the wicked” (Exodus 23:7). “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). It should be noticed that justify is here used forensically, not meaning to make righteous, but to treat as righteous. Those who object to this sense in St. Paul’s Epistles, will find it hard to put any other sense upon the word in the rest of Holy Scripture.

(2) If the wicked man be worthy to be beaten.—Literally, a son of beating, or of Haccôth, according to the Hebrew. The treatise called Maccôth, in the Talmud, describes the infliction of the punishment in later times, when “of the Jews five times” St. Paul “received forty stripes save one.” The details have been described by Canon Farrar in an appendix to his Life of St. Paul.

Shall cause him to lie down.—The Talmud interprets the position as not sitting nor standing, nor exactly lying, but with the body inclined.

Before his face.—This is interpreted as on the front of his body. The thirty-nine stripes were given thirteen on one shoulder, thirteen on the other, and thirteen on the breast.

(3) Forty stripes.—The Talmud says that they considered first what a man could bear, and flogged him according to their estimate. In some cases, if the whole punishment could not be administered at once, it was divided. It is contemplated as possibly fatal, however.

Lest . . . thy brother should seem vile unto thee.—The punishment was not considered to be any degradation, after it had been inflicted. It was inflicted in the synagogue, and the law was read mean while from Deuteronomy 28:58-59, with one or two other passages.

(4) Thou shalt not muzzle the ox.—We have a comment on these words from St. Paul in two places (1Corinthians 9:9, and 1Timothy 5:18). It is not only written for the sake of the oxen, but to prove that the “labourer is worthy of his hire;” “they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.”

Deuteronomy 25:1. If there be a controversy between men — Having made provision for the security of private right in some such remarkable cases as might be sufficient standards whereby to regulate all others, and having fixed punishments to the breach of the most capital laws, Moses now comes to such criminal matters as deserved only corporal penalties, and directs the inferior courts to be just and impartial in their proceedings upon all such complaints. They shall justify the righteous — Acquit him from guilt and false accusations, and free him from punishment. Condemn the wicked — Declare him guilty, and pass sentence of condemnation upon him to suitable punishment.

25:1-3 Every punishment should be with solemnity, that those who see it may be filled with dread, and be warned not to offend in like manner. And though the criminals must be shamed as well as put to pain, for their warning and disgrace, yet care should be taken that they do not appear totally vile. Happy those who are chastened of the Lord to humble them, that they should not be condemned with the world to destruction.Render it:

(1) If there be a controversy between men, and they come to judgment, and the judges judge them, and justify the righteous and condemn the wicked (compare the marginal reference. and Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 17:15);

(2) then it shall be, etc.


De 25:1-19. Stripes Must Not Exceed Forty.Judges must do justly, Deu 25:1,2. Stripes not to exceed forty, Deu 25:3. The threshing ox not to be muzzled, Deu 25:4. The duty of raising seed unto a brother, Deu 25:5-10. The punishment of an immodest woman, Deu 25:11,12. A just weight and measure, Deu 25:13-16. The memory of Amalek is to be blotted out, Deu 25:17-19.

A controversy about criminal matters, as it follows. They shall justify, i.e. acquit him from guilt and false accusations, and free him from punishment.

Condemn the wicked; declare him guilty, and pass sentence of condemnation to suitable punishments upon him.

If there be a controversy between men,.... Between two or more:

and they come unto judgment; into a court of judicature, bring their cause thither:

that the judges may judge them; who were never less than three; the great sanhedrim at Jerusalem consisted of seventy one, the lesser court was of twenty three, and the least of all three only:

then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked: acquit the one, whose cause is good, and condemn the other to punishment, who is guilty of a crime, and as that deserves; which is to do righteous judgment; the contrary to this is an abomination to the Lord, Proverbs 17:15.

If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, {a} that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.

(a) Whether there is a plaintiff or not, the magistrates should try our faults, and punish according to the crime.

1. controversy] litigation.

and shall have declared righteous him who is in the right and declared guilty him who is guilty] The vbs. and adjs. are to be taken in a legal sense: see above on Deuteronomy 9:5.

Verses 1-3. - The first and second verses should be read as one sentence, of which the protasis is in ver. 1 and the apodosis in ver. 2, thus: If there be a strife between men, and they come to judgment, and they (i.e. the judges) give judgment on them, and justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked, then it shall be, if the wicked deserve to be beaten (literally, be the son of blows), that the judge, etc. It is assumed that the judges shall pronounce just judgment, and apportion to the guilty party his due punishment; and then it is prescribed how that is to be inflicted. In the presence of the judge the man was to be cast down, and the adjudged number of blows were to be given him, not, however, exceeding forty, lest the man should be rendered contemptible in the eyes of the people, as if he were a mere slave or brute. This punishment was usually inflicted with a stick (Exodus 21:10; 2 Samuel 7:14, etc.), as is still the case among the Arabs and Egyptians; sometimes also with thorns (Judges 8:7, 16); sometimes with whips and scorpions, i.e. scourges of cord or leather armed with sharp points or hard knots (1 Kings 12:11, 14). Though the culprit was laid on the ground, it does not appear that the bastinado was used among the Jews as it is now among the Arabs; the back and shoulders were the parts of the body on which the blows fell (Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 19:29; Proverbs 26:3; Isaiah 1:6). According to his fault, by a certain number; literally, according to the requirement of his crime in number; i.e. according as his crime deserved. The number was fixed at forty, probably because of the symbolical significance of that number as a measure of completeness. The rabbins fixed the number at thirty-nine, apparently in order that the danger of exceeding the number prescribed by the Law should be diminished (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24); but another reason is assigned by Maimonides, viz. that, as the instrument of punishment was a scourge with three tails, each stroke counted for three, and thus they could not give forty, but only thirty-nine, unless they exceeded the forty (Maimon., 'In Sanhedrin,' 17:2). Deuteronomy 25:1Corporal Punishment. - The rule respecting the corporal punishment to be inflicted upon a guilty man is introduced in Deuteronomy 25:1 with the general law, that in a dispute between two men the court was to give right to the man who was right, and to pronounce the guilty man guilty (cf. Exodus 22:8 and Exodus 23:7).
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