Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,XIII.
(1) If there arise.—Three cases of instigation to idolatry are considered in this chapter:—
1. The false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
2. A private individual (Deuteronomy 13:6-11).
3. A city (Deuteronomy 13:12-18).
In every case the penalty is the same—death without mercy.
Is this law the production of a later age? It may be said to have been more often broken than observed.
But there are instances in the history of Israel which seem to require some such law as this in all its three sections. The case of the false prophet justifies the action of Elijah, who took the prophets of Baal from Carmel when proved to be impostors, and “brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.”
If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;(6) If thy brother.—The substance of this law is that individual idolaters might be executed in Israel. It justifies Jehu and Jehoiada in destroying Baal out of Israel and Judah (2Kings 10:19-27; 2Kings 11:18). It also accounts for the covenant made in the time of Asa (2Chronicles 15:13), that whosoever would not serve the Lord God of Israel should be put to death whether man or woman.
The law may seem harsh, but its principle is reproduced in the Gospel: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
It is impossible to deny or escape the identity of the Lord Jesus with the Jenovah of the Old Testament He does not always put the execution of His judgments into human hands, but He is the same for ever.
But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.(9) Thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death.—A law tending to prevent false accusation. Where the witness is obliged to carry out himself, or to aid in carrying out, the sentence he demands, secret accusation is impossible; and it is far less easy to pervert the law in order to prosecute a private quarrel.
If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying,(12) If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities.—The only case of this kind is the case of Gibeah. We may fairly assume the abominations done there to have been connected with idolatry, from the allusions in Hosea 9:9; Hosea 10:9. But the outrage rather than the idolatry seems to have excited the indignation of Israel (see Judges 20, 21). It is noticeable that in the remonstrance with the Benjamites at Gibeah—(Judges 20:13): “Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel”—there seems to be an allusion to the language of this chapter in Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 13:11.
Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known;(13) Children of Belial.—The very same expression is used in Judges 20:13 : “Deliver us the men, the children of Belial, that are among you.” This is the first place where the expression “sons of Belial” occurs, and Judges 19:22 is the second. It is generally explained by modern scholars as “worthlessness.” Rashi curiously makes it “destroyers of the yoke” (of Jehovah).
Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.(15) And the cattle thereof.—So in Judges 20:48 : “The men of every city, the beast, and all that were found.”
And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again.(16) And shalt burn with fire the city.—So Gibeah was treated (Judges xx 40).
And there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing to thine hand: that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers;(17) We seem to hear an echo of this verse in the close of the story of Achan (Joshua 7:26): “And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones, and they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger”