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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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 Chapter 21
Chapter 23
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Again, in this chapter, there is a collection of miscellaneous laws, apparently mentioned at random. "The miscellaneous character of the precepts found in Deut. 22:1,12 has perplexed those who regard these chapters as a legal code, but it is natural enough in a spoken discourse."F1 Of course, Deuteronomy is not in the formal sense "a Code of Laws." The Code of Laws is the Decalogue and related legislation of earlier chapters in the Pentateuch. Most of the things mentioned in this chapter have already been commanded by the Lord, and the feature of this chapter is found in the extensions, variations, and explanations found here. We have already commented upon most of the rules given in this chapter, and in a number of instances we have referred to the parallel passages in earlier books of the Pentateuch. (The reader is requested to see other comments on these regulations under those scriptures.)

We are indebted to Scott for this list of the regulations presented in this chapter:F2

1. On Lost Property (Deuteronomy 22:1-3). (Compare Exo. 23:4ff).

2. On Assisting Fallen Beasts (Deuteronomy 22:4). (Compare Exo. 23:5).

3. Against the Interchange of Clothes (Deuteronomy 22:5). In Deuteronomy only.

4. Regard for the Animal Kingdom (Deuteronomy 22:6,7). In Deuteronomy only.

5. A Banister Required on Roof (Deuteronomy 22:8). (Compare Exo. 21:33f).

6. Of Mixtures (Deuteronomy 22:9-11)

(1) of seed;

(2) of plowing animals; and

(3) wearing materials. (Compare Lev. 19:19).

7. Of Twisted Threads or Knots (Deuteronomy 22:12). (Compare Num. 15:37-41).

8. Bride's Virginity Falsely Challenged (Deuteronomy 22:13-19).

In Deuteronomy only.

9. Bride Found Guilty (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). In Deuteronomy only.

10. Punishment of Adulterers (Deuteronomy 22:22). (Compare Lev. 20:10).

11. Seduction of a Betrothed Virgin with Consent (Deut. 22:23f).

In Deuteronomy only.

12. Seduction of a Betrothed Virgin without Consent (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).

In Deuteronomy only.

13. Intercourse with a Virgin Not Betrothed (Deuteronomy 22:28,29). (Compare

Exo. 22:16ff).

14. Against Intercourse with a Father's Wife (Deuteronomy 22:30). (Compare Lev.

15:8; 18:8).

Verses 1-3
Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely bring them again unto thy brother. And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it home to thy house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him. And so shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his garment; and so shalt thou do with every lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found: thou mayest not hide thyself.

A comparison with Exo. 23:4f shows that what we have here is an extension of the law there. "Not only the ox or the ass or the sheep that may be lost are covered here, but `every lost thing' that belonged to a brother."F3 Also in the Exodus passage, the primary application is to an "adversary." a legal opponent, but here "brother" actually means an Israelite. Also, there is an archaic expression found a couple of times in this passage: "Thou mayest not hide thyself ... This means, `If you see ... do not ignore it.'"F4 This paragraph means that every man should look not merely to his own advantage but to the good of all people.

This admonition, as Cousins stated, "Was applied in Exo. 23:4 to a legal adversary, in a lawsuit, but the law here is broader, since `brother' includes every one of God's people."F5 There is more here, however, than mere helpfulness toward our fellow men, there is concern and mercy for the animal kingdom, composed of those speechless, helpless victims of man's lust, greed, and brutality. "The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast" (Proverbs 12:10). Mercy upon the plight of the fallen animal, it seems to us, is one of the primary motivations behind a law like this.

Verse 5
A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah thy God.

That this law is still applicable to God's people appears to be certain, because of Paul's identification of a man's "long hair" as a shame (1 Corinthians 11:12-15). Most of the present-day commentators write this regulation off as applicable to ancient magical or pagan religious rites, supposing that the need for the regulation no longer exists, but there is no evidence whatever to support such views. Keil flatly stated that alleged proofs of such things by Spencer are very far-fetched, and that the real reason for the regulation is:

"To maintain the sanctity of that distinction of the sexes which was established by the creation of man and woman, and in relation to which Israel was not to sin. Every violation or wiping out of this distinction is unnatural, and therefore an abomination in the sight of God."F6

We consider such views as the following to be sound on this question:

"Whatever tends to eliminate the distinction between the sexes tends to licentiousness; and that one sex should assume the dress of the other has always been regarded as unnatural and indecent.F7 Transvestism has historically almost always been practiced by those who exemplified the characteristics of the opposite sex; and these were often homosexuals. To wear clothes of the opposite sex immediately labels one in his community."F8

Verses 6, 7
If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young: thou shalt surely let the dam go, but the young thou mayest take unto thyself; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.

The amazing thing here is that long life and prosperity are promised upon a condition which some might be tempted to view as secondary or trivial, but that is not the case. Nothing is any more important than the preservation of the various species of life upon the planet, and the maintenance of that ecological balance upon which all life depends. The Jewish writers explained this amazing promise on the basis that here is a test of man's inherent selfishness. "The observance of this commandment teaches man to fight his egotism for the common good ... The observance of this commandment symbolizes the repudiation of selfishness."F9 However, there must be more to this promise than is indicated by such an answer. Rabbi Akiba supposed the case of a man who climbed a tower and took the young from a nest, sparing the dam in accordance with the Law. But on the way down he falls and breaks his neck.

"Where is the `going well and prolonging of days' in this case?"F10 "The truth of the resurrection of the dead is implied in all the promises of reward attached to the keeping of the Law."F11 The same also applies in Exo. 20:12.

In this context, take a look at Luke 21:16-18, where in the same breath Jesus promised his apostles that some of them would be put to death and that "not a hair of your head shall perish." The meaning of all such passages is simply this: "Whatever may happen to my body, my wealth, my friends, my family, or my reputation, or my position in life, nothing, absolutely nothing can happen to me; for I am in Christ.

Verse 8
When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thy house, if any man fall from thence.

The responsibility of builders, land owners, and other property owners to protect people from any form of accidental injury is clearly indicated here. This is a variation upon the Sixth Commandment and is capable of very wide application. "The friendly hazard" is a liability known to every property owner under the laws of our current society.

Back of this legislation was the use of flat roofs in the buildings of that day. The flat rooftop could be utilized for privacy, coolness, and other advantages; and, in order to protect people from inadvertently falling off the roof, the legislation here required the builder to guard against all such possibilities.

Verses 9-11
Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole fruit be forfeited, the seed which thou hast sown, and the increase of the vineyard. Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.

For comment on these instructions see Lev. 19:19. Minute differences appear in the fact that "yoke not" in Leviticus becomes "plow not" here. "Since God has made obvious distinctions in nature, it is unwise for man to obliterate them."F12 Although we doubt it, a number of respected commentators have suggested that these prohibitions were legislated because "magical practices (such as these) were forbidden."F13 It is admitted that there is "no evidence" of such practices being in any manner considered "magical."

Verse 12
Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four borders of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.

(See Vol. 3 in our series on the Pentateuch for comment on this passage under Num. 15:37-41.)

Verses 13-21
If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, and lay shameful things to her charge, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came nigh to her, I found not in her the tokens of virginity; then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate; and the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; and, lo, he hath laid shameful things [to her charge], saying, I found not in thy daughter the tokens of virginity; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him; and they shall fine him a hundred [shekels] of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if this thing be true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the damsel; then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the harlot in her father's house: so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee.

Although such a law as this may seem to us indelicate and cruel, such proofs were considered necessary in the culture of ancient peoples; and "They are still demanded by certain tribes in Syria, Egypt, and Morocco."F14

(Deuteronomy 22:18). The word here means flog, or whip.F15

Tokens of her virginity…
is a reference to the blood-stained sheet resulting from the consummation of the marriage. It would appear from the parents of the bride having possession of this that it was customary for them to acquire it upon the occasion of the couple's coming together. There are many literary references to such tokens. Shakespeare, for example, asked a certain woman, Art thou willing to wear the bloody nightgear for him?

The triple penalty of whipping, fine, and denial of any subsequent possibility of divorce was considered to be very severe in those times, but it did not at all compare with the harsh penalty of death imposed by stoning upon a damsel declared to be guilty. Note that in the case of a verdict against the damsel, the parents, especially her father, were considered to share in the guilt, since the crime was committed in the father's house, hence, the sight for the execution "at the door of her father's house."

Verse 22
If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel.

Many have commented upon the fact of the impartiality of God's law given here in that both the man and the woman were condemned to death. Christ removed the death penalty for this offence (John 8:1-8), but, it is still totally contrary to the will of God and prohibited, absolutely, in the N.T. The penalties for violation are transferred from the administration of earthly courts and reserved for the final judgment of all people.

If there be a damsel that is a virgin betrothed unto a husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them to death with stones; the damsel because she cried not, being in the city, and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor's wife: so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee.

"But if the man find the damsel that is betrothed in the field, and the man force her; then the man only that lay with her shall die: but unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbor, and slayeth him, even so is this matter; for he found her in the field, the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her."

These regulations applicable to the seduction of virgins are unique to Deuteronomy. In the first instance, the damsel is presumed to be guilty because she did not cry out, but in the second instances, even if she had cried out, there was none to rescue her. Therefore, she was presumed to be innocent. In the first case, both were stoned to death; in the second, only the man was stoned. The requirement that adulteresses be burned was applicable only to the daughter of a priest. The importance of this is evident in Revelation, where the Great Harlot is "burned with fire," indicating the RELIGIOUS nature of the Great Harlot.

Verses 28, 29
If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty [shekels] of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.

For further comment on this see under Exo. 22:16. Notice that in all of these regulations betrothal is EQUIVALENT to marriage. Under the Jewish customs, betrothal was, in fact, marriage, despite the fact of the bride and the bridegroom not living together for some considerable time afterward. The example of this in the case of Mary and Joseph is repeatedly evident in the N.T.

Verse 30
A man shall not take his father's wife, and shall not uncover his father's skirt.

This type of incest was not even tolerated among pagan cultures (1 Corinthians 5:1). The thing forbidden here is the taking of a father's wife (not the sinner's mother), as in the case of Reuben and his adultery with Bilhah. This prohibition is also in Lev. 18:7ff, which see for additional comment.

Footnotes for Deuteronomy 22
1: R. K. Harrison, The New Bible Commentary, Revised, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 222.
2: D. R. Scott, Abingdon Bible Commentary, Deuteronomy (New York: Abingdon Press, 1929), p. 334.
3: W. L. Alexander, The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 354.
4: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 253.
5: Peter E. Cousins, The New Layman's Bible Commentary, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p., 301.
6: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 409.
7: W. L. Alexander, The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 355.
8: Bruce Oberst, Deuteronomy (Joplin: College Press, 1968), p. 258.
9: Avenei Ezel, Wellsprings of Torah (New York: The Judaic Press, 1969), pp. 407,408.
10: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 132.
11: Ibid.
12: R. K. Harrison, The New Bible Commentary, Revised, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 223.
13: Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 301.
14: D. R. Scott, op. cit., p. 335.
15: Harry M. Orlinsky, op. cit., p. 253.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 22". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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