Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy 21:22-22:30

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Deuteronomy 21:22-22:30

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Justice, Caring and Holiness Precepts 

This section begins with instructions on hanging someone. Notice that the criminal was put to death and then hanged (verse 22). “The guilty person was not hanged by the neck; this form of execution was not practiced in ancient Israel. The hanging was actually the impaling [or tying up] of the corpse for public viewing after death by stoning. Everyone would know that individual had brought guilt on the community. The exposure of the corpse was limited to one day. For that day, it reminded people of God’s judgment on the sinner” (Nelson Study Bible, note on 21:22-23). Thus, a criminal so hanged had to be buried before sunset (verses 22-23; compare Joshua 8:29 Joshua 8:29And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcass down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remains to this day.
American King James Version×
). The hanging on a tree of the condemned person’s corpse was considered a “curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23 Deuteronomy 21:23His body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that your land be not defiled, which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.
American King James Version×
). That is part of why Joseph of Arimathea was anxious to take Jesus from the cross and bury Him before the new day, a Holy Day, began (Matthew 27:57-61 Matthew 27:57-61 [57] When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: [58] He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. [59] And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, [60] And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed. [61] And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulcher.
American King James Version×
; Mark 15:42-47 Mark 15:42-47 [42] And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, [43] Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly to Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. [44] And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling to him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. [45] And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. [46] And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone to the door of the sepulcher. [47] And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.
American King James Version×
; Luke 23:50-54 Luke 23:50-54 [50] And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just: [51] (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. [52] This man went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. [53] And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. [54] And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
American King James Version×
; John 19:38-42 John 19:38-42 [38] And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, sought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. [39] And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. [40] Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. [41] Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. [42] There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulcher was near at hand.
American King James Version×
). Jesus, when being nailed on the cross, became “accursed” for us—He, being innocent of any crime or sin, took away the curse for the violation of the law (that is, the death penalty) that we, through our sinful conduct, had brought upon ourselves (compare Galatians 3:13 Galatians 3:13Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree:
American King James Version×
; Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×
).

Deuteronomy 22:1-4 Deuteronomy 22:1-4 [1] You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them: you shall in any case bring them again to your brother. [2] And if your brother be not near to you, or if you know him not, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall be with you until your brother seek after it, and you shall restore it to him again. [3] In like manner shall you do with his ass; and so shall you do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost, and you have found, shall you do likewise: you may not hide yourself. [4] You shall not see your brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide yourself from them: you shall surely help him to lift them up again.
American King James Version×
gives practical examples on how to love our neighbor: If we find something that belongs to our neighbor, we are to return it to him. We are to take care of the found item until it can be returned (verses 1-3). We are also to assist our neighbor when he needs help (verse 4). And we are not to hide ourselves from helping (compare Isaiah 58:6-7 Isaiah 58:6-7 [6] Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? [7] Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?
American King James Version×
). Rather we are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2 Galatians 6:2Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
American King James Version×
).

Deuteronomy 22:5 Deuteronomy 22:5The woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination to the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
prohibits cross-dressing. A man is not to wear women’s clothes and vice versa, according to the cultural norms of the day. This deals with transvestitism or with conduct that could even give the appearance that one is engaged in such a practice. The command does not forbid unisex fashions—that is, attire that is culturally acceptable for both men and women to wear. It should also be noted here that “in the ancient Middle East, dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex was a magical practice intended to bring harm to people. For example, a transvestite male would predict that the soldiers of another army would be as weak as females” (Nelson, note on 22:5).

Verses 6-7 are concerned with the preservation of the environment and wildlife—one is not to take the mother bird and the young birds at the same time, but let the mother go free so that she can continue producing offspring, thus perpetuating the species. If the opposite were done, taking the mother and leaving the young, the young would, of course, die, leaving none of the birds alive.

Verse 8 is another law showing concern for neighbor. In ancient houses, roofs, which were flat, were often used like other rooms, especially during hot weather. Thus, there was a real danger of someone accidentally stepping or falling off the edge of the roof. Therefore, this law was to protect others by requiring that a house have a parapet or railing around the roof’s edge to prevent accidental injury. While we do not normally put railings around our roofs today unless it is common for people to walk on them, we would certainly do so around a balcony or very high deck. Indeed, the principle here is simply that we try to anticipate dangers in anything we plan or build and do what we can to protect others from those dangers. This law was simply a practical way to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 Leviticus 19:18You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
; Matthew 22:39 Matthew 22:39And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×
)—to take reasonable steps to protect others from injury.

Verse 12 repeats the command from Numbers 15:37-41 Numbers 15:37-41 [37] And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, [38] Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of the borders a ribbon of blue: [39] And it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look on it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go a whoring: [40] That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. [41] I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
that tassels be added to the four corners of one’s clothing. One source comments: “To understand the significance of the tassel, we must first understand the significance of the hem. The hem of an ancient Near-Eastern garment was not simply a fold sewed to prevent the threads of the cloth from unraveling. The hem of the outer garment or robe made an important social statement. It was usually the most ornate part of the garment. And the more important the individual, the more elaborate and the more ornate was the embroidery on the hem of his or her outer robe. The tassel must be understood as an extension of such a hem…. Thus, the significance of the tassel (as well as the elaborate hem) is this: It was worn by those who counted; it was the ‘I.D.’ of nobility. The requirement of a blue cord in the tassels [see Numbers 15:38 Numbers 15:38Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of the borders a ribbon of blue:
American King James Version×
] lends further support to the notion that the tassels signified nobility because the blue dye used to color the threads was extraordinarily expensive” (Jacob Milgrom, “Of Hems and Tassels,” Biblical Archaeology Review,May-June 1983, pp. 61-62).

This supports the common Jewish understanding: “In ancient times non-Jewish royalty wore fringes on the hems of their clothes to indicate their high position. The Torah instructs all Jews to remember that they are a nation of priests with God as their ruler” (Malka Drucker, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, 1982, p. 48). However, the explicitly stated scriptural reason for tassels is found in Numbers 15:39-40 Numbers 15:39-40 [39] And it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look on it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go a whoring: [40] That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.
American King James Version×
: “that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord to do them…and so be holy to the Lord.” Perhaps, in reminding the Israelites that they were a royal priesthood, the tassels also reminded them that this responsibility required them to obey Him and remain holy. It may even be that the tassels reminded them that God had taken them from slavery and made them a wealthy, blessed people—and that He would continue to bless them as long as they remained faithful to Him.

Today it is the Holy Spirit that reminds us of God’s law (John 14:26 John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
American King James Version×
). The Holy Spirit was not given, or even promised, to ancient Israel at large, so they needed such physical reminders (compare Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×
). Under the terms of the New Covenant, those physical reminders should not be necessary, as the law of God is being written on our hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33 Jeremiah 31:33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version×
). It is true that Christ wore tassels (see Matthew 9:20 Matthew 9:20And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
American King James Version×
, the word translated “hem” here and “borders” in Deuteronomy 23:5 Deuteronomy 23:5Nevertheless the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam; but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing to you, because the LORD your God loved you.
American King James Version×
referring to an ancient hem with tassels as described above), but He lived His human life under Old Testament rules, including its sacrifices and offerings and its physical reminders.

Deuteronomy 22:13-30 Deuteronomy 22:13-30 [13] If any man take a wife, and go in to her, and hate her, [14] And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name on her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: [15] Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity to the elders of the city in the gate: [16] And the damsel’s father shall say to the elders, I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he hates her; [17] And, see, he has given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not your daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. [18] And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; [19] And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the damsel, because he has brought up an evil name on a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. [20] But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: [21] Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she has worked folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shall you put evil away from among you. [22] If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shall you put away evil from Israel. [23] If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed to an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; [24] Then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he has humbled his neighbor’s wife: so you shall put away evil from among you. [25] But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die. [26] But to the damsel you shall do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man rises against his neighbor, and slays him, even so is this matter: [27] For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her. [28] If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; [29] Then the man that lay with her shall give to the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he has humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. [30] A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor discover his father’s skirt.
American King James Version×
discusses laws of sexual morality. If it was discovered that a newly married bride had engaged in sexual immorality or fornication prior to marriage, she was to be stoned (verses 20-21). If the husband’s accusation of fornication prior to marriage was proved wrong, the husband had to pay a fine to his wife’s family and was not allowed to ever divorce her (verse 19). This was done to protect the wife, as the husband had to continue to provide for her.

When two unmarried people engaged in fornication and were discovered, the perpetrators had to marry each other (verse 28) unless the father of the girl refused to consent to the marriage. In that case, the man who had enticed the virgin still had to pay “money according to the bride-price of virgins” (Exodus 22:16-17 Exodus 22:16-17 [16] And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. [17] If her father utterly refuse to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.
American King James Version×
). If two people engaged in adultery, that is, where at least one of them was married to someone else, then both perpetrators were to be stoned (verse 23). The concept of adultery even included a “betrothed,” though not yet married, woman, as she was already considered to be the “wife” of the new husband (verses 23-24). Then there was the matter of rape. If a sexual relationship involving a betrothed woman occurred in the city where other people were nearby, but the woman did not cry out for help, this was considered adultery and not rape, since the woman could have been heard if she had cried out, thereby demonstrating her disagreement with the sexual encounter. On the other hand, if a rape of a betrothed woman occurred in the isolation of the countryside, where her cries for help would have been to no avail, then the matter was declared a rape and only the rapist had to die (verses 25-27).

Don’t Get Mixed Up 

Deuteronomy 22:9 Deuteronomy 22:9You shall not sow your vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of your seed which you have sown, and the fruit of your vineyard, be defiled.
American King James Version×
forbids sowing a vineyard with different kinds of seed. Verse 10 prohibits plowing with an ox and a donkey together. And verse 11 prohibits wearing garments of different material. Let’s examine these three prohibitions in more detail.

The prohibition against wearing certain clothes is actually quite specific. Note that the words “such as” have been added to verse 11. It should actually read, “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, wool and linen mixed together.” That the mixing of wool and linen is really the issue here may also be seen in Leviticus 19:19 Leviticus 19:19You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle engender with a diverse kind: you shall not sow your field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come on you.
American King James Version×
, which clearly states, “Nor shall a garment of mixed wool and linen come upon you.” Wool is an animal product, while linen is a plant product. Such should not be combined, as they produce clothes of lesser quality. Further, the Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary (JFB) notes that research has determined that wool blended with linen may sometimes increase static electricity to the point of causing heat rashes in hot climates (note on Leviticus 19:19). Thus, with the prohibition being so specific, synthetic fabric does not even appear to be an issue here, or fabric that is part synthetic and part wool or that is part synthetic and part linen. It should also be noted that the prohibition is against a particular fabric being an improper blend. It apparently does not prohibit wearing wool and linen at the same time or even as different parts of the same garment.

The purpose of the prohibition against sowing different kinds of seed may have been twofold. First, it may have been “directed against an idolatrous practice, viz., that of the ancient Zabians, or fire-worshippers, who sowed different seeds, accompanying the act with magical rites and invocations” (JFB, note on Leviticus 19:19 Leviticus 19:19You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle engender with a diverse kind: you shall not sow your field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come on you.
American King James Version×
). But this law was evidently also given to prevent the intentional or unintentional cross-pollinating of different kinds of plants, as this would produce substandard hybrids. The same commentary notes that “those who have studied the diseases of land and vegetables tell us that the practice of mingling seeds is injurious both to flowers and to grains. ‘If the various genera of the natural order Gramineae, which includes the grains and the grasses, should be sown in the same field, and flower at the same time, so that the pollen of the two flowers mix, a spurious seed will be the consequence, called by the farmers chess. It is always inferior and unlike either of the two grains that produced it, in size, flavor, and nutritious principles. Independent of contributing to disease the soil, they never fail to produce the same [result] in animals and men that feed on them’ ” (note on Leviticus 19:19 Leviticus 19:19You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle engender with a diverse kind: you shall not sow your field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come on you.
American King James Version×
). For other examples, cucumbers should not be planted near watermelons because they will cross and produce a perversion. Likewise, the various members of the muskmelon and cantaloupe family should not be planted near pumpkins or certain types of squash, as they will mix. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with planting peas or beans among corn, or planting two pasture grasses together. In that case, there is no problem as each seed continues to reproduce only after its own kind.

With today’s scientific knowledge, there is much planned hybridization. However, much of it is controversial because, generally speaking, with most “improvements” or advantages come corresponding disadvantages or weaknesses. Hybrid plants grown for human food have often proven less healthful.

Several reasons have been offered for the prohibition against yoking an ox and a donkey together for plowing. One explanation is that an ox is a clean animal, while a donkey is unclean. Also, it has been shown that the ox cannot tolerate the smell of a donkey, so that both animals don’t really work together harmoniously. They pull unequally and, sometimes, even against each other. The Soncino Commentary suggests that the “underlying principle is prevention of cruelty, since the ass which is weaker than the ox would suffer in such a combination.” The JFB Commentary expresses all of these thoughts, stating: “An ox and ass, being of different species and of very different characters, cannot associate comfortably, nor unite cheerfully in drawing a plow or wagon. The ass being much smaller and his step shorter, there would be an unequal and irregular draft. Besides, the ass, from feeding on coarse and poisonous weeds, has a fetid breath, which its yoke-fellow seeks to avoid, not only as poisonous and offensive, but producing leanness, or, if long continued, death; and hence, it has been observed always to hold away its head from the ass and to pull only with one shoulder” (note on Deuteronomy 22:10 Deuteronomy 22:10You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together.
American King James Version×
). All of this certainly serves to illustrate a spiritual principle the apostle Paul brought out in the New Testament. In light of everything that was just pointed out, we can perhaps better understand Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 6:14 2 Corinthians 6:14Be you not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness?
American King James Version×
, where he says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Indeed, this lesson may be found not only in the rule about plowing, but also the ones concerning seeds and fabrics. For while these precepts have value in the physical realm, they illustrate a spiritual reality: Don’t get mixed up with this world.

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