The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers…
I. EACH SOUL IS TO BEAR ITS OWN SIN. (Ver. 16.) This verse lays down the rule of human jurisprudence. Loss and suffering to the innocent, as a result of the course of justice inflicting punishment on the guilty, cannot always be avoided. But this is an incidental, not a designed result. With those wider movements of Divine justice, which seem to turn on the federal constitution of the race, and involve different principles, human justice has nothing to do. The rule for us is that the punishment of crime, with loss and suffering resulting therefrom, is to be confined as much as possible to the guilty person.
II. JUSTICE IS TO BE DONE TO THE WEAKEST. (Vers. 17, 18.) The stranger and fatherless and widow are again taken under the Law's protection. Their right is not to be perverted. The widow's raiment is not to be taken in pledge. There should need no inducement to do what is right, but Moses reminds the Israelites of their own past condition as bondmen. Oppression is doubly disgraceful when those guilty of it are persons who have themselves tasted its bitterness, or who have themselves been mercifully dealt with (Matthew 18:23-35). We cannot sufficiently admire the combined justice and tenderness of these Mosaic precepts.
III. PROVISION IS TO BE LEFT FOR THE NEEDY. (Vers. 19-22.) These are beautiful rules. The Jews were under the Law, but it was a Law the fulfilling of which was "love." The variety of ways in which the Law seeks to instill love into the hearts of the chosen people would form a study eminently suitable for the pulpit. The poor we have always with us, and they should be often in our thoughts. (Southey's poem, 'The Complaints of the Poor.') In the cornfield, among the olives, in the vineyard, they were to be remembered. When the wealthy are gathering in their abundance, then is the time for remembering the needy. Thus will the heart be kept warm, covetousness checked, our own happiness best secured, the wants of the poor supplied, their blessing obtained, a treasure laid up in heaven. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth" (Proverbs 11:24). - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.