Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.Deuteronomy 24:1-5 contain two laws concerning the relation of a man to his wife. The first (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) has reference to divorce. In these verses, however, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is, that in case of a divorce a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died. The four verses form a period, in which Deuteronomy 24:1-3 are the clauses of the protasis, which describe the matter treated about; and Deuteronomy 24:4 contains the apodosis, with the law concerning the point in question. If a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce, because she did not please him any longer, and the divorced woman married another man, and he either put her away in the same manner or died, the first husband could not take her as his wife again. The putting away (divorce) of a wife with a letter of divorce, which the husband gave to the wife whom he put away, is assumed as a custom founded upon tradition. This tradition left the question of divorce entirely at the will of the husband: "if the wife does not find favour in his eyes (i.e., does not please him), because he has found in her something shameful" (Deuteronomy 23:15). ערוה, nakedness, shame, disgrace (Isaiah 20:4; 1 Samuel 20:30); in connection with דּבר, the shame of a thing, i.e., a shameful thing (lxx ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα; Vulg. aliquam faetiditatem). The meaning of this expression as a ground of divorce was disputed even among the Rabbins. Hillel's school interpret it in the widest and most lax manner possible, according to the explanation of the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3, "for every cause." They no doubt followed the rendering of Onkelos, פתגם עבירת, the transgression of a thing; but this is contrary to the use of the word ערוה, to which the interpretation given by Shammai adhered more strictly. His explanation of דּבר ערות is "rem impudicam, libidinem, lasciviam, impudicitiam." Adultery, to which some of the Rabbins would restrict the expression, is certainly not to be thought of, because this was to be punished with death.
(Note: For the different views of the Rabbins upon this subject, see Mishnah tract. Gittin ix. 10; Buxtorf, de sponsal. et divort. pp. 88ff.; Selden, uxor ebr. l. iii. c. 18 and 20; and Lightfoot, horae ebr. et talm. ad Matth. v. 31f.)
כּריתת ספר, βιβλίον ἀποστασίου, a letter of divorce; כּריתת, hewing off, cutting off, sc., from the man, with whom the wife was to be one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The custom of giving letters of divorce was probably adopted by the Israelites in Egypt, where the practice of writing had already found its way into all the relations of life.
(Note: The rabbinical rules on the grounds of divorce and the letter of divorce, according to Maimonides, have been collected by Surenhusius, ad Mishn. tr. Gittin, c. 1((T. iii. pp. 322f. of the Mishnah of Sur.), where different specimens of letters of divorce are given; the latter also in Lightfoot, l.c.)
The law that the first husband could not take his divorced wife back again, if she had married another husband in the meantime, even supposing that the second husband was dead, would necessarily put a check upon frivolous divorces. Moses could not entirely abolish the traditional custom, if only "because of the hardness of the people's hearts" (Matthew 19:8). The thought, therefore, of the impossibility of reunion with the first husband, after the wife had contracted a second marriage, would put some restraint upon a frivolous rupture of the marriage tie: it would have this effect, that whilst, on the one hand, the man would reflect when inducements to divorce his wife presented themselves, and would recall a rash act if it had been performed, before the wife he had put away had married another husband; on the other hand, the wife would yield more readily to the will of her husband, and seek to avoid furnishing him with an inducement for divorce. But this effect would be still more readily produced by the reason assigned by Moses, namely, that the divorced woman was defiled (הטּמּאה, Hothpael, as in Numbers 1:47) by her marriage with a second husband. The second marriage of a woman who had been divorced is designated by Moses a defilement of the woman, primarily no doubt with reference to the fact that the emissio seminis in sexual intercourse rendered unclean, though not merely in the sense of such a defilement as was removed in the evening by simple washing, but as a moral defilement, i.e., blemishing, desecration of the sexual communion with was sanctified by marriage, in the same sense in which adultery is called a defilement in Leviticus 18:20 and Numbers 5:13-14. Thus the second marriage of a divorced woman was placed implicite upon a par with adultery, and some approach made towards the teaching of Christ concerning marriage: "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery" (Matthew 5:32). - But if the second marriage of a divorced woman was a moral defilement, of course the wife could not marry the first again even after the death of her second husband, not only because such a reunion would lower the dignity of the woman, and the woman would appear too much like property, which could be disposed of at one time and reclaimed at another (Schultz), but because the defilement of the wife would be thereby repeated, and even increased, as the moral defilement which the divorced wife acquired through the second marriage was not removed by a divorce from the second husband, nor yet by his death. Such defilement was an abomination before Jehovah, by which they would cause the land to sin, i.e., stain it with sin, as much as by the sins of incest and unnatural licentiousness (Leviticus 18:25).
Attached to this law, which is intended to prevent a frivolous severance of the marriage tie, there is another in Deuteronomy 24:5, which was of a more positive character, and adapted to fortify the marriage bond. The newly married man was not required to perform military service for a whole year; "and there shall not come (anything) upon him with regard to any matter." The meaning of this last clause is to be found in what follows: "Free shall he be for his house for a year," i.e., they shall put no public burdens upon him, that he may devote himself entirely to his newly established domestic relations, and be able to gladden his wife (compare Deuteronomy 20:7).
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.
No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge.Various Prohibitions. - Deuteronomy 24:6. "No man shall take in pledge the handmill and millstone, for he (who does this) is pawning life." רחים, the handmill; רכב, lit., the runner, i.e., the upper millstone. Neither the whole mill nor the upper millstone was to be asked for as a pledge, by which the mill would be rendered useless, since the handmill was indispensable for preparing the daily food for the house; so that whoever took them away injured life itself, by withdrawing what was indispensable to the preservation of life. The mill is mentioned as one specimen of articles of this kind, like the clothing in Exodus 22:25-26, which served the poor man as bed-clothes also. Breaches of this commandment are reproved in Amos 2:8; Job 22:6; Proverbs 20:16; Proverbs 22:27; Proverbs 27:13.
If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.Repetition of the law against man-stealing (Exodus 21:16). - Deuteronomy 24:8, Deuteronomy 24:9. The command, "Take heed by the plague of leprosy to observe diligently and to do according to all that the priests teach thee," etc., does not mean, that when they saw signs of leprosy they were to be upon their guard, to observe everything that the priests directed them, as Knobel and many others suppose. For, in the first place, the reference to the punishment of Miriam with leprosy is by no means appropriate to such a thought as this, since Miriam did not act in opposition to the priests after she had been smitten with leprosy, but brought leprosy upon herself as a punishment, by her rebellion against Moses (Numbers 12:10.). And in the second place, this view cannot be reconciled with בּנגע השּׁמר, since השּׁמר with בּ, either to be upon one's guard against (before) anything (2 Samuel 20:10), or when taken in connection with בּנפשׁ, to beware by the soul, i.e., for the sake of the worth of the soul (Jeremiah 17:21). The thought here, therefore, is, "Be on thy guard because of the plague of leprosy," i.e., that thou dost not get it, have to bear it, as the reward for thy rebellion against what the priests teach according to the commandment of the Lord. "Watch diligently, that thou do not incur the plague of leprosy" (Vulgate); or, "that thou do not sin, so as to be punished with leprosy" (J. H. Michaelis).
Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do.
Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come forth out of Egypt.
When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.Warning against oppressing the Poor. - Deuteronomy 24:10, Deuteronomy 24:11. If a loan of any kind was lent to a neighbour, the lender was not to go into his house to pledge (take) a pledge, but was to let the borrower bring the pledge out. The meaning is, that they were to leave it to the borrower to give a pledge, and not compel him to give up something as a pledge that might be indispensable to him.
Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.
And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge:And if the man was in distress (עני), the lender was not to lie (sleep) upon his pledge, since the poor man had very often nothing but his upper garment, in which he slept, to give as a pledge. This was to be returned to him in the evening. (A repetition of Exodus 22:25-26.) On the expression, "It shall be righteousness unto thee," see Deuteronomy 6:25.
In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God.
Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates:They were not to oppress a poor and distressed labourer, by withholding his wages. This command is repeated here from Leviticus 19:13, with special reference to the distress of the poor man. "And to it (his wages) he lifts up his soul:" i.e., he feels a longing for it. "Lifts up his soul:" as in Psalm 24:4; Hosea 4:8; Jeremiah 22:27. On Deuteronomy 24:15, see Deuteronomy 15:9 and James 5:4.
At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.Warning against Injustice. - Deuteronomy 24:16. Fathers were not to be put to death upon (along with) their sons, nor sons upon (along with) their fathers, i.e., they were not to suffer the punishment of death with them for crimes in which they had no share; but every one was to be punished simply for his own sin. This command was important, to prevent an unwarrantable and abusive application of the law which is manifest in the movements of divine justice to the criminal jurisprudence of the lane (Exodus 20:5), since it was a common thing among the heathen nations - e.g., the Persians, Macedonians, and others - for the children and families of criminals to be also put to death (cf. Esther 9:13-14; Herod. iii. 19; Ammian Marcell. xxiii. 6; Curtius, vi. 11, 20, etc.). An example of the carrying out of this law is to be found in 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chronicles 25:4. In Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:18, the law against perverting the right of strangers, orphans, and widows, is repeated from Exodus 22:20-21, and Exodus 23:9; and an addition is made, namely, that they were not to take a widow's raiment in pledge (cf. Leviticus 19:33-34).
Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge:
But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.Directions to allow strangers, widows, and orphans to glean in time of harvest (as in Leviticus 19:9-10, and Leviticus 23:22). The reason is given in Deuteronomy 24:22, viz., the same as in Deuteronomy 24:18 and Deuteronomy 15:15.
When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.