Deuteronomy 21
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
We have here a ritual applicable to cases where murder has not been expiated by the apprehension and execution of the murderer. The mystery has remained unraveled. The elders and judges, in such a case, are to come and measure which city is nearest the slain man, and the elders of that city are then required to take the heifer prescribed and make atonement, that the country may be delivered from the guilt of innocent blood. The heifer is to be one in the full vigor of life, which has not been wrought with, and consequently expressed in the fullest form the life-producing power to which the violent death stood as a contrast. She is to be taken down into a "rough valley," or, as the words (נַחַל אֵיתָן) more accurately mean, "a perennial stream," and there is her neck to be struck off, and the blood thus violently shed is to pass away in the never-failing stream. While this is taking place, the eiders of the city are to wash their hands over her, in protestation of their innocence, and to pray for deliverance from the guilt, and it shall be forgiven them.

I. AN UNDISCOVERED MURDER IS PROPERLY IMPUTED TO THE DISTRICT WHERE THE VICTIM HAS BEEN FOUND. In a well-ordered society life should be safe. When it is proved unsafe, society cannot plead "Not guilty." Locally, it must be allocated, and so the city nearest the victim has the crime imputed to it. The sense of guilt is distributed territorially, and the elders, or representatives of the people, are required to clear themselves by the special rite here described. Sin has thus wider relations than to the individual who has committed it. It may lie at the door of a city, or of a neighborhood, and in their collective capacity they may be required to deal with it.

II. THE DISTRICT THUS GUILTY THROUGH IMPUTATION IS MOST PROPERLY SUMMONED TO A RELIGIOUS SERVICE. It is surely a matter for general humiliation that such a crime could be secretly committed, and the murderer escape. It should lead to special religious exercises. It would be a very seemly thing if neighborhoods where great crimes have gone undiscovered were to unite in supplicating God's mercy, in view of the guilt thus contracted.


1. The violent death of an innocent and full-blooded animal. The cruel killing of the heifer was a repetition of the tragedy, and was well fitted to bring its guilt before them. Thus was a sense of sin deepened.

2. Its shed blood was carried away on the surface of the never-failing stream. In this beautiful, poetic way, the providential removal of innocent blood, did God convey the idea of removing the guilt from the district concerned.

3. Over the heifer so slain the elders were to wash their hands and protest their innocency. In this way the most solemn sanctions were associated with their plea of "Not guilty."

4. And they were further to intercede for the removal of the imputation against Israel. Only after this minute ritual had been gone through was the assurance of forgiveness pronounced by the priest.

IV. IN THIS WAY WE DISCOVER A TYPIFICATION OF THE PARDON PROVIDED BY CHRIST. And here we do well to notice, as facts incapable of dispute -

1. That people who are innocent have often to incur imputation along with the guilty. The children of evil-doers incur an evil repute, although they may be perfectly innocent. It is a law of society as at present constituted - the innocent are grouped with the guilty.

2. Jesus Christ is One who has voluntarily accepted of the imputation of sin, though innocent, and suffered in consequence. Just as the innocent heifer was paraded with the guilty district, and alone suffered because of the committed and undiscovered sin, so Jesus takes up his position in the sad procession, and is the selected, yet voluntary, Victim.

3. The Holy Spirit, as a perennial stream, carries the sense and sight of blood-guiltiness away. For, without the Spirit's help, the shed blood of Jesus might only increase human guilt; with his help it takes all the guilt away.

4. Those who wish pardon must not be too proud to ask for it. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So have we the gospel vividly presented to us. - R.M.E.

The explanation commonly given of this peculiar ceremony seems unsatisfactory. Keil's view, that "it was a symbolical infliction of the punishment that should have been borne by the murderer, upon the animal which was substituted for him," is contradicted by the fact that, for deliberate murder, the Law, as he admits, provided no expiation, while the object of this ceremony was plainly in some way to remove blood-guiltiness. Fairbairn's explanation (in his 'Typology') is even more far-fetched, that the heifer was "a palpable representative of the person whose life had been wantonly and murderously taken away." The key to the ceremony is, we think, to be sought for in another direction. The central idea is that a responsibility attaches to a whole community for crimes committed in its midst. The members of the community are implicated in the guilt of the murder till they absolve themselves by bringing the murderer to justice (vers. 8, 9). In the case here treated of, the murderer is unknown, and a rite is appointed by which the share of the community in his blood-guiltiness, which cannot be removed in the ordinary way, by executing justice on the criminal, is otherwise abolished. The heifer, in this view, represents neither the murdered man nor his murderer, but the people of the city, who seek to purge themselves from guilt by putting it to death. It is their own guilt they seek to get rid of, not the criminal's. Expiation was not admitted for the actual murderer, but the responsibility for the crime, which, failing the visitation of justice on the criminal, devolved on the community - for that, expiation was admitted. The animal, suffering vicariously, in full possession of its vital powers, while the elders of the city washed their hands over it, and declared their innocence of all knowledge of the murder, sufficed to secure that "the blood should be forgiven them" - forgiveness implying previous imputation. The valley, "neither eared nor sown," was, in its desolation and sterility, a fit place for such a transaction, which, while it cleansed the city, left the curse upon the murderer, and indeed made the spot a sort of witness of his yet unexpiated guilt. We learn:

1. That responsibility attaches to each and all in a community for crimes committed in its midst.

2. That the community is not absolved till every effort has been made to discover the perpetrators of crime and to bring them to justice.

3. That the punishment of murder is death.

4. That to ignore, connive at, or encourage crime in a community, involves the authorities in the criminality of the deeds connived at.

5. That all parties, the people (represented by the elders), the magistrates (judges), the Church (priests), are alike interested in bringing criminals to justice. - J.O.

The influence of man upon man is omnific; it touches him at every point. The potency of influence depends on character, rank, age, station. The character of kings is soon reflected on their courtiers. From this principle is born the adage, "Like priest, like people." Crimes proceed from depraved sentiment, and sentiment can be purified by righteous influence.

I. CRIME COVETS CONCEALMENT. All crime is cowardly, base, mean. It fears the light. This may furnish a test for acts that lie near the boundary lines of morality, and admit of question. If the fierce light of righteous opinion is dreaded, the thing is already condemned. So lacking in fortitude and courage is the murderer, that he will seldom confess the truth unless conscience scourges him with intolerable remorse. Yet it is, in well-organized society, an exceptional thing if the murderer escapes. The movements of Divine providence usually furnish some clue to the red-handed man. Still, if amid the infirmities of human government the culprit should escape, he is amenable to another jurisdiction where concealment is impossible. Every crime shall eventually be seen in a blaze of noontide light.

II. MAGISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY IS INDICATED. Crime is not merely injury against an individual, it is an assault upon society. If murder pass with impunity, no life will soon be safe. In the human race there is a solidarity of interest. Men constitute a family. Cities have a character as well as persons. The real leaders in society are laden with heavy responsibility. It is their paramount duty to foster healthy public sentiment; and if this sentiment does not penetrate far enough to prevent crime, it should penetrate far enough to detect crime. Every man can contribute something to influence public morals, and magistrates should lead the way.

III. PUBLIC ABHORRENCE OF CRIME IS IMPRESSIVELY SHOWN. The minds of men are more impressed by deeds than by words, especially by symbolic acts surrounded by the sanctions of religion. It was of the first importance that the city elders should be beyond any suspicion of connivance with the deed. Therefore they must publicly purge themselves by solemn attestation. A valuable heifer was to be selected, and the elders were required to decapitate the victim - a public protest that this would be their own desert if in any degree they had been accessories to the crime. The natural scene selected for this rite was significant. It was to be done in a rugged valley given over to barrenness or natural desolation; being an impressive picture of sin's effect. Accompanying this solemn immolation - this appeal of innocence to Heaven - there was the most explicit utterance of words; so that the honor of the rulers might shine out clear and bright. Magisterial authority is founded on public regard. It was, moreover, a representative act. Every citizen spoke through these elders.

IV. MEDIATION IS HERE FORESHADOWED. It is possible by our thoughtlessness to "become partaker of other men's sins." We all share, in greater or lesser measures, in the guilt of the race. There are sins of ignorance, and to these a measure of culpability belongs. Evils might have been prevented if we had been more faithful. But, by God's appointment, substitution is permitted. Other blood may be shed, by virtue of which we may be redeemed. "The blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin;" nor can the blood of man. No material compensation can be made for moral wrong. But moral effects may be produced by substitution, which shall be equally just and more beneficent. As the priests of olden time were mediators between God and the Jews, so we have a Great High Priest, who is a real Mediator, having royal interest for us with God.

V. PENITENCE AND PURITY ARE TWIN SISTERS. (See ver. 9.) There is an appeal for mercy: "Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel." Some measure of culpability must be felt in every solicitation of mercy. For mercy is that principle in God which conveys blessing when no merit exists. And if true penitence moves in the breast, it is the parent of reformation; its purpose is amendment. It seeks not only removal of burdens, but the destruction of the evil thing. In the hour of penitence, new love and new hate are born. Unless fruits of righteousness appear, penitence is only pretence. The sincere cry for mercy is always followed by "doing that which is right in the sight of the Lord." - D.

We have here a regulation or law of war. Captives might be sold as slaves, but through love they might reach the position of a wife in a Jewish household, and if she did not please her conqueror, then she was to be made free again. So that the possible fate of the captive was "through love to liberty."

I. LOVE IS THE BEST CURE FOR THE ILLS OF WAR. The men were to be slain: women might be kept as a prey (Deuteronomy 20:14). It was a blessed issue when the conqueror was himself conquered by his captive. Then slavery was over, and love brought liberty. The passion of hate had given place to the passion of love. The better time had come.

II. BUT THE PASSION MUST RE SUBJECT TO WISE RESTRAINT. A month's mourning is allowed the beautiful captive, during which her person is sacred in the house of her captor. She bids farewell to her relations, whether living or dead, for she is going to be the wife of a Jew; and her intended husband has time to think quietly over his passion of love, and to see whether it is lasting or no.

III. HER PRIVILEGE WAS TO BECOME THE FREE WIFE OF HER JEWISH LORD. If a happily ordered marriage, it must have been a joyful issue of the war. The terrible ordeal had proved to her the path to honor and social blessedness and peace. All the agony had given place to enlarging love.

IV. AT THE VERY WORST, SHE REGAINED HER LIBERTY. The love had in this case proved transient - she had not pleased him - they would not be happy together. In such a case she was given a legal title to liberty. If not loved, she had the next best privilege of being free. In this arrangement, consequently, we have love and liberty in the house of a husband; or liberty, if the love proves fickle and the match ill arranged. This was a beneficent arrangement compared with the licentiousness which usually accompanied war.

V. WE MAY CONTRAST THIS WITH THE LOVE AND LIBERTY GUARANTEED US BY CHRIST JESUS. Our Lord, in fact, offers us his love, oh, how strong and bow true! And in his love there is liberty, the liberty wherewith he makes his people free. No uncertainty hangs over his offer to us; no slavery is possible in his house. We shall, in fact, have reason to bless him for conquering us for loving purposes, and any anguish his conquest may have cost us, will be amply compensated in his royal and limitless love. Conquest, love, and liberty forever is the experience through which we pass in the hands of Jesus, the Conquering Hero, and no one ever regrets entering upon it, for it is enjoyment indeed! - R.M.E.

The kindness, thoughtfulness, and strict justice of the Mosaic laws is very striking. The Law here interposes to secure -

I. CONSIDERATE TREATMENT OF ONE BEREAVED. (Vers. 10-14.) The case supposed comes under the law of Deuteronomy 20:14. The woman was a captive in war and a heathen, yet the Israelite is required to respect her chastity, and, if he conceive a passion for her, must not only make her his wife in a proper manner, but must allow her a full month to bewail her dead relatives. The question of religion is a difficult one in such cases, but we may suppose that no force was applied to captives and strangers further than forbidding to them the outward practice of idolatry. The laying aside of the symbols of captivity, and the purificatory rites of cutting the hair and nails, could only imply reception into the fellowship of the covenant nation in the event of the woman freely accepting Jehovah as her God (cf. Ruth 1:15, 16). Learn:

1. That the tumult and disorder of war is no excuse for immoral license.

2. We are to consider the situation and feelings of those whose circumstances place them at our mercy.

3. Natural affections are to be respected underneath all differences of creed and race.

II. PROTECTION FOR ONE UNFRIENDED. (Ver. 14.) The captive stranger wedded to an Israelite was not left to be treated by him as he listed. Her unfriended position exposed her to the risk of suffering from her husband's caprice and unfeelingness. While, therefore, he is permitted, if he lose delight in her, to divorce her - for the "letting her go" must be construed in the light of Deuteronomy 24:3 - he must on no account sell her or detain her as a captive. Another instance of God's care for "the stranger." Hasty marriages, founded on passion inspired by mere external attractions, seldom result in lasting happiness. - J.O.

God's laws are accommodations to human infirmities. To require from men summarily, and as the result of law, perfect conduct of life is impracticable. Hence legislation, to be successful, must be adapted to the case, and must lead by gradations to a nobler life. This law, though tolerant of lesser evil, is a marked amelioration of earlier custom - a step towards order and purity.

I. FEMALE BEAUTY WINS THE HEARTS EVEN OF WARRIORS. There are other conquests, and nobler, than military conquests. Beauty snatches the palm from strength. In the very hour of victory the conqueror has laid all his spoils at the feet of a gentle woman. Love rules the camp. External beauty has its uses. Real beauty is the exponent of some hidden worth. It eloquently says, "There is some goodness here: search and find it out." And beauty has its perils too - it may excite sexual passion which cannot be controlled.

II. CONJUGAL UNION IS TO RESULT, NOT FROM SUDDEN. PASSION, BUT FROM WELL-TRIED LOVE. This sudden desire to have his captive as his wife was required to be tested by time. Calm reflection is to precede a union so full of possible results. Beauty may fling her robe of color about the haze of dawn, but the gray haze of dawn does not constitute the day. Mere bloom on summer fruit will not meet the hunger of the man. Marriage is a temple of God, and must not be built on an imaginary foundation. The charm of the fair captive's locks was to be temporarily removed, so that the lover's desire might rest, not on fleeting accessories, but on personal worth. Ill-assorted marriages are a fertile curse. Sympathy in religion is essential to a prosperous marriage union.

III. THE NATURAL FEELINGS OF WOMAN, AS WOMAN, ARE TO BE SCRUPULOUSLY RESPECTED. We may not understand all the purposes this Jewish law was designed to serve; but certain it is that, though a captive, the natural feeling of filial sorrow was to be allowed, yea, expected. To repress or root out the affectionate feeling of a daughter would be mutilation of the soul. A forgetful daughter will never be a worthy wife. Nothing in our external fortunes - not even success in war - warrants our playing the tyrant. It is for the benefit of the human race that woman should be treated on equal terms. Her fine endowments have a noble part to play in the culture of humanity.

IV. MARRIAGE HAS ITS DUTIES AS WELL AS ITS ENJOYMENTS. By the custom of that barbarous age, the captive, whether male or female, became the absolute property of the captor. He could reduce her to slavery. But if he chose to make her his wife, he conveyed to her rights which could not be alienated. It became henceforth his duty to protect her and all her interests. She was secure against the lust of avarice. God threw around her the shield of his sacred Law. But the very necessity for this commandment disclosed the rampant greed for gain which rules in some men. Thankful ought we to be that God removes such a possible temptation out of our way. Not by God's consent is marriage ever contracted or terminated for the sake of money gain. - D.

Bigamy was not encouraged by the Mosaic Law. Where it took place in man's passion, the Law stepped in to regulate the relations in the household impartially. The house of a bigamist may be the scene of sudden jealousies and dispeace, but God steps in to forbid it being the scene of injustice. The discomfort is providentially inseparable from the bigamy - it would have been a pity had it been otherwise! But the Lord steps in to prevent flagrant injustice being done to the children solely through the father's caprice. Caprice may be permitted up to a certain point, with all its painful checks, but it will not be suffered to perpetuate undeserved wrong.

I. THE RIGHTS OF THE FIRSTBORN CONSISTED IN A DOUBLE SHARE OF THE FAMILY PROPERTY - TWICE AS MUCH AS THE OTHER CHILDREN. This was that he, as the beginning of his father's strength, and as acknowledged head of the family, might be able to sustain its honor properly. It was for this portion Elisha prayed when he desired a double portion of Elijah's spirit; not twice as much, but twice as much as the other sons of the prophets (2 Kings 2:9). And this is what Jesus gets from the Father, according to the promise, "I will make him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (Psalm 89:27). There was another right of the firstborn, in having a seed raised up for him in case of his premature decease. This also has its import in the case of Jesus.

II. BECAUSE A FIRSTBORN'S MOTHER WAS HATED WAS NO REASON WHY HE SHOULD BE DENIED HIS RIGHTS. The dark cloud of hate was not to envelop him, and keep him out of his double portion, or his right to a seed, if he prematurely died. And yet this was what Jesus received in the way of treatment. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." As the Firstborn of humanity, he deserved the double portion, yet had not where to lay his head. He was denied his rights among men.

III. FROM THE CAPRICE OF MEN WE MAY ALWAYS LOOK UP TO THE IMPARTIAL JUSTICE OF GOD. This was the protection of the firstborn in the house of a bigamist. God was on his side. This was the protection of Jesus amid the injustice of men - the Father was along with him. He always did what pleased him. And whenever we feel aggrieved through the capricious conduct of our fellows, let us always look up confidingly to our Father above. The Lord is just, at all events. We may rely on his vindication of our case in the great day, if not before. - R.M.E.

The firstborn, in patriarchal and tribal societies, had recognized rights and honors, correlative with the duties and responsibilities which his position as prospective head of the household entailed on him. The principle is here asserted that individual preferences and partialities are not to be allowed to set aside the rights of the son who is lawfully the firstborn. Men would fain, sometimes, bend justice to their likings. Where an Israelite had two wives, either together or in succession, the one loved and the other hated, he might be tempted to pass by the son of the hated, and confer the rights of the firstborn on the son of the wife whom he loved, though it was the son of the hated wife who was entitled to that honor. With strict impartiality, the Law steps in and forbids this act of injustice. It demands that the son of the hated wife have all his rights. It will tolerate no tampering with them. Lessons:

1. The evils of polygamy.

2. The sin of allowing likes and dislikes to influence us to acts of injustice.

3. The danger of natural preferences degenerating into blameworthy partialities.

4. The duty of doing always what is right, whatever the bent of our private inclinations. - J.O.

Every indication of God's will is a finger-post to felicity. A wise man will not wait for peremptory law. The faintest whisper of Jehovah's will is law to him. Without doubt, that each man should be the husband of one wife was the ordination of God.

I. THE FIRSTBORN SON IS PLACED IN A POSITION OF SPECIAL PRIVILEGE AND POWER. All human government is built upon the model of the family. Within the compass of the family the firstborn was a sovereign, had sovereign rule and responsibility. In families like Jacob's, where there were many children and dependents, this was a position of eminence and power. In every case, special duties devolve upon the firstborn. He has often to act as the representative of the family, and to defend family rights. He becomes the natural arbitrator in family disputes. His influence, for good or for evil, is great. Therefore, to sustain his position and power, a double portion of the ancestral estate was his.

II. THE PRIVILEGE OF THE FIRSTBORN IS INALIENABLE. For a time the firstborn son is sole heir to his father's rank and riches; hence, for reasons external to him, it would be unjust to depose him. And injustice always leads to strife, disorder, and mischief. Filial reverence would be undermined. Seeds of hatred would be sown. The removal of the father's authority by death would be the sign for feud, litigation, and waste. What God has ordained let not man disturb. Our earthly possessions are entrusted to us temporarily by God, and the entailment has been determined by the Divine Proprietor. For the just management of our secular estates and of our family concerns, we are accountable at the great assize. Favoritism among children is a prolific evil.

III. THIS PROSPECTIVE MISCHIEF ISSUES FROM A PLURALITY OF WIVES. God has often tolerated among men what he has not approved. He does this, in some respect, every day. If he had imposed capital punishment upon the violation of monogamy, the effect, in many cases, would have been unchastity. Law, in order to be effectual, can never transcend the highest level of moral sentiment prevalent in the age. Otherwise judges themselves would be culprits, and no one could be found to administer the law. But the family intrigues, quarrels, and miseries which spring from a plurality of wives are God's visible brands and scourges on disobedience. What works best for society, for the human race, is (in the absence of other instruction) the revealed will of God. Wherever there is more than one wife there must be divided affection, divided interests, divided authority. The house is divided against itself. - D.

It is plain that parents are to deal with their children to the best of their ability: but in case a stubborn and rebellious son would not hearken to father or mother, would not appreciate chastisement, and had become a drunkard and glutton, then the parents were directed to bring the case before the elders of the city, and the impenitent, licentious son was to be taken away from the earth by public stoning. The public law was thus, in the last resort, to back up parental authority and to remove the "scapegrace."

I. PARENTAL AUTHORITY IS TO BE EXERCISED TO THE UTMOST. Father and mother are both to do their best to save their son from being a public disgrace. They are to use the rod, to chasten him, if nothing milder will do. Only after they have prosecuted their parental authority to the last degree are they to seek the public officers.

II. GLUTTONY AND DRUNKENNESS ARE TREATED AS CAPITAL OFFENCES UNDER THE THEOCRACY. They are incompatible with membership in God's kingdom. Hence they are deemed worthy of death. Because they are not now so severely visited by public law does not imply that they are less heinous in God's sight than they were then.

III. IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE LAST RESORT WHEN PARENTS WOULD BRING FORTH THEIR SON FOR PUBLIC EXECUTION. What a wearying of love and patience there must have been before such a commandment as this would be carried out! The father and mother would bear long before they would bring themselves to make of their child a public infamy.

IV. THE EXECUTION OF THE SCAPEGRACE WAS A SOLEMN DEDICATION OF HIM, BY IMPOSITION OF HANDS, TO DEATH BY STONING. Such a public disgrace must have had a very wholesome effect in deterring reckless children from self-abandonment. We do not hear of any instance of such an execution. Drunkenness and gluttony were not common crimes in Israel.

V. IT WOULD SEEM THAT GIBBETING WAS ADDED TO THE STONING, TO EMPHASIZE STILL MORE THE DISGRACE IN SUCH CASES. When this was carried out, it was understood that the gibbeted person was taken down at sundown, so as not to defile the land, and was buried without delay. As accursed of God, the corpse was as soon as possible put out of sight into the tomb.

VI. IT IS INSTRUCTIVE TO THINK OF JESUS CHRIST BEING EXPOSED TO JUST SUCH A PUBLIC INFAMY. He was made a curse for us. He was hanged on a tree, gibbeted as a malefactor. What love led him to place himself in such a position! The authorities took him, and in his Father's and mother's presence they did him to death, as if he bad been a disobedient and disgraceful Son. Thus did he deliver us from the curse of the Law. We receive honor because he accepted shame. The "holy Child Jesus" was nailed to the cross, was suspended on a tree, as if he were accursed of God. May we all profit by his voluntary humiliation, and imitate him as the holy, consecrated Child! - R.M.E.

A law of this kind, which left it to the parents themselves to impeach their disobedient son, while ordaining that, when the charge was proved against him, and it could be shown that the parents had duly corrected him, the offender should be put to death, would, we may believe, very rarely be enforced. In cases so aggravated that its enforcement was necessary, the penalty, judged by the usages and state of feeling of the time, would be thought anything but severe. The law, whether enforced or not, was a standing testimony to the enormity attaching in the eyes of God to the sin of filial disobedience. We learn -

I. INSUBORDINATION TO PARENTS IS A GRAVE OFFENCE AGAINST SOCIETY. It is treated here, not simply as a private wrong, but as a crime. Hebrew society rested so largely on the patriarchal basis that the due maintenance of parental authority was a necessity of its existence. The theocratic principle, according to which parents were invested with a peculiar sacredness as representatives of God, likewise called for the repression of incorrigible disobedience. But, whatever the form of social order, a spread of the spirit of insubordination to parents is the invariable prelude to a universal loosening of the ties and obligations of corporate existence. "It has been found," says Dr. Fleming, in his ' Moral Philosophy,' "in the history of all nations that the best security for the public welfare is a wise and happy exercise of parental authority; and one of the surest forerunners of national degradation and public anarchy and disorder is neglect or contempt of domestic happiness or rule."

II. PARENTS ARE NOT ENTITLED TO COMPLAIN OF THE DISOBEDIENCE OF CHILDREN, SAVE WHERE THEIR OWN DUTIES TO THEIR CHILDREN HAVE BEEN FAITHFULLY DISCHARGED. TO secure a conviction, the parents had to show, not only that they had done their best to bring the son up in right ways, but that they had corrected him, and otherwise endeavored to reclaim him from his vices. Before parents are entitled to complain of the disobedience of children, they must have done their utmost

(1) by instruction,

(2) by admonition,

(3) by correction,

(4) by example,

(5) by a firm assertion of parental authority generally, to keep them from error.

Parents who neglect these duties have little cause to wonder at a son turning out ill; the wonder would be if he should turn out well. It is they, as much as the son, who deserve blame. Lesson: Compare with the behavior of this rebellious son our own treatment of our heavenly Father. - J.O.

It is of the first importance that a child should begin life well. A twist in the young stem will develop into a gnarled and crooked tree. A slight divergence at the outset of a voyage may end in a complete reversal of the ship's course. Early obedience is the pathway to a prosperous life; disobedience leads to death. The tongue that curseth its father shall be scorched with devouring flame.

I. SELFISH INDULGENCE DESTROYS FILIAL REVERENCE. The human body is to be the servant of the mind. If the appetites and lusts of the body are allowed to rule, the mind becomes a slave, and all the better principles are manacled and enfeebled. We begin life as dependent children, and the fresh sense of loving obligation should be an antidote for selfishness. But if we set out in life with a resolve to please self, we are already on the way to ruin. Reverence for the parental character, and regard for parental authority, are the only solid foundations for a noble life. To feed unduly the body, and for gratification alone, is to starve the soul. Sensuality fosters self-will.

II. REBELLION IN THE CHILD DESTROYS SONSHIP. Disregard of authority soon chokes and strangles filial feeling. The tie of sonship is snapped. The qualities and attributes of a son are wanting. There is a relationship of body, but no true relationship of soul. Alienation has sprung up instead of vital union. The lad may dwell under the old roof-tree, but in reality there is a great gulf between him and his parents: he is a descendant, but not a son. To be the children of God there must be resemblance of character.

III. UNFRUITFUL CHASTISEMENT IS A TREMENDOUS CURSE. The medicine that does not do good, does harm. The flame that does not melt, hardens. Parental chastisement, when needed, is an imperative duty, but should be administered with wisdom, self-restraint, and pity. The obstinacy of the son is not infrequently due to the foolish leniency or unrestrained severity of the parent. Chastisement is a serious experiment, and always produces some effect, either favorable or unfavorable. We are not the same men after trial or pain that we were before.

IV. THE STATE MUST SUPPORT PARENTAL AUTHORITY. SO valuable is human life that the State wisely claims the sole power of capital punishment. If the disciplines and chastisements of home have failed to produce a virtuous citizen, the whole community must deal with the incorrigible reprobate. The State cannot afford, for its safety's sake, to allow a firebrand to be let loose in its midst. The example and influence of such a miscreant would be fatally mischievous. The whole State has vital interests to serve, and it would be sheerest folly to sacrifice them to a drunken madman.

V. PERSISTENT REBELLION LEADS TO AN IGNOMINIOUS END. It must be a duty, the most painful for human nature to perform, to surrender a son to public execution. Yet it sometimes is a duty. The hope of amendment has been quenched. To continue such a one in life has become a bane to himself and to others. If all remedies have failed, destruction must ensue. All the men of the city shall put their hand to the deed. This may be done by personal service or by representation. The mad career of the culprit ends in pain, loss, and perpetual disgrace. It is a symbol of the great judgment doom. - D.

The criminal who had committed a sin worthy of death, and was put to death under the law, was viewed as dying under the ban or curse of God. When the crime was very execrable, and the criminal might be regarded as perishing under God's most awful curse, the fact was intimated by exposing the body on a tree. Compare the old custom of hanging a notorious criminal in chains. The placing of the body on a tree was not that which made the person accursed, but was an external sign or token of his being an accursed one. It was, therefore, a singular and striking feature in God's providential arrangements, not only that the death of Christ should be brought about as a result of judgment passed on him by the constituted authorities of his nation, pronouncing him guilty of the worst of all crimes under the theocracy, that of blasphemy, but that in the manner of his death even this external token of ignominy should not be wanting. In this act, the placing of Jesus on the cross, the sin and madness of the world were overruled, as in several other instances (Matthew 27:25, 29, 42; Mark 15:27, 28; John 11:50), to give unwitting expression to the highest truth. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). The crucifixion of Jesus signifies to us:

1. The world's judgment upon Christ. It put him to death as one accursed of God. It treated him as the worst of malefactors, and interpreted his death upon the cross as a sure token of God having forsaken him (Matthew 27:43). To many it may have appeared as if the inference were just. The Sanhedrim had convicted him of blasphemy, and their verdict seemed confirmed by the failure of Christ to deliver himself out of their hands. A true Christ would not thus have succumbed before his enemies. The cross was the refutation of his claims, and the proof of his being an impostor, justly doomed to die. "We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4). The world was wrong, for Jesus was never dearer to his Father than in that hour when he hung upon the tree; but, in a sense unknown to itself, it gave utterance to a truth.

2. Christ's submission to a cursed death for the world. The subjection of the sinless Christ to the death of the cross is a fact which requires explanation. If the world put him to death as one accursed, it is none the less true that he voluntarily submitted to this suffering and ignominy, and that the Father permitted him so to be "made a curse." A yet more mysterious feature in the death of Christ is that, in the direst hour of his agony, the Father seemed to side with the world, by withdrawing from him the light and comfort of his presence (Matthew 27:46). Christ was dealt with by Heaven, not less than by men, as One under a curse; if not a sinner, he was treated as if he were one. The apostolic writings lay stress on this as a fact of essential importance in the work of Christ for man's salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13). Subjection to the curse of the Law in the name of the world of sinners with whose lot he had identified himself, was not all that was necessary for their redemption from that curse, but it was involved in what was necessary. Any theory of atonement which leaves out the recognition of Christ "made sin" for us by voluntary endurance of sin's doom, must, on scriptural grounds, be pronounced at least incomplete. - J.O.

The suspension of a human body on the gallows-tree is the utmost climax of ruin and disgrace. It is the fullest exponent of the public detestation and horror for the deed. In this case the curse of men is the curse of God. But this curse was not to continue. Blessing was to be perpetual, abiding, uninterrupted; but the curse was to endure for a moment. The body so accursed was to be buried before sunset. Many reasons have been assigned for this.

I. BECAUSE VINDICTIVE ANGER SHOULD BE KEPT WITHIN DUE BOUNDS. Anger against monstrous crime is a great assistance in the performance of painful duty. We are braced to do under stress of anger what we could scarcely do in calmer moods of feeling. Anger has its use, but should not be prolonged. When the painful deed is done, vengeful passion should cease. To this end let the lifeless body be buried out of sight.

II. BECAUSE THE HUMAN FORM IS SACRED AS GOD'S TEMPLE. The temple may be in ruins, yet sentiments of veneration hover round the ruined shrines. We know that yonder executed man was the workmanship of the living God. Every vein, and artery, and muscle, and nerve in that mutilated body was the handiwork of God. With that man's history God had taken pains; and over his mistaken course God had grieved. We think of what that man might have been, how fruitful in goodness and virtue! how meet for Divine service and honor! And the spectacle of that man's doom should arouse our fear. We may well stand in awe of sin. To commit such a corpse with gentle pity to the grave will do us good.

III. BECAUSE MORAL DEFILEMENT WOULD OTHERWISE RESULT. The exposure of a dead body in that climate beyond a single day would taint the atmosphere and damage health. But to accustom the minds of men to such a ghastly spectacle would tend to moral defilement. It would serve to harden their better feelings, and make too familiar the exhibition of Jehovah's curse. In our present condition sacred things may become too common. Here especially "familiarity breeds contempt." No greater evil can befall the soul than when it becomes heedless of Divine judgments. - D.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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