Deuteronomy 14:1, 2
You are the children of the LORD your God: you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.…
After guarding them so carefully from all idolatry, Moses next charges the Israelites not to imitate the heathen nations by mutilating themselves or making themselves bald for the dead. The reason assigned is their consecration unto the Lord. There must have been, therefore, in these heathen practices something unholy expressed. Let us first consider what this was, and then proceed to the lessons in the prohibition.
I. WHAT WAS MEANT BY CUTTING ONE'S SELF AND MAKING ONE'S SELF BALD FOR THE DEAD? It implied manifestly some post-mortem merit and service. It was akin to the sacrifices which often have been presented in connection with death. It was the sacrifice of something short of life, but yet valuable. It was the sacrifice of sightliness, if not of beauty, in the interests of the dead. It implied that something could be done for the departed by those who remained, and which self-denying love gladly undertook. Hence these practices brought out the hopelessness of sorrow as it exists in the heathen world, and the desire to propitiate offended Deity by sympathetic suffering and sacrifice.
II. THE PROHIBITION SUMMONED THE JEWS TO HOPEFUL SORROW. The dead were to be regarded as in the hands of God, and he was to be trusted with them absolutely. No post-mortem sacrifices were to be attempted, but the cases left with implicit confidence to the ever-living and gracious Father. "Prayers for the dead" and "Masses for the dead" but express the pitifulness of human hope, and the dread and doubt with which the dead are left in the hands of God. Israel was prohibited from any such infirmity.
III. THEY WERE EVEN TO REGARD THEMSELVES AS CONSECRATED TO THE LIVING GOD, AND CONSEQUENTLY NOT TO BE DESECRATED THROUGH MUTILATION FOR THE DEAD. The danger sometimes is for people to forget their dedication to God amid all the loneliness of their sorrow. The dead absorb attention. God has been removing "idols," but the idols have become, through death, more and more to them. Too much cannot be made of the dead, they think, and so they would make a perpetual dedication of themselves to the dead, forgetful of their relations to the living God above. Now, it is this everlasting relation which God insists upon. Nothing can be better, surely, than in sorrow to be reminded, "Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." It is just this which bereavement is intended to make emphatic. God claims us as his own: let not the dead make perpetual marks upon your persons, as if they had the right to your life-long service. This is desecration instead of consecration. Unreasonable attachment to the dead may be the denial of due consecration to the living God.
IV. UNCOMMON CONSECRATION TO GOD SHOULD BE OUR IDEAL. Israel was to be a peculiar people unto God "above all the nations that are upon the earth." All nations glorify God in some degree, even in spite of themselves. But his own people are wise in aiming at special consecration. There is nothing so important as the highest possible ideal. Devoted to this, we attain to something higher and nobler than is possible otherwise.
"Lord, we can trust thee for our holy dead,
They, underneath the shadow of thy tomb,
Have entered into peace; with bended head
We thank thee for their rest, and for our lightened gloom." R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.