In this chapter we have,
I. The toleration of divorce,
II. A discharge of new-married men from the war,
III. Laws concerning pledges,
IV. Against man-stealing,
V. Concerning the leprosy,
VI. Against the injustice of masters towards their servants,
Judges in capital causes
and civil concerns,
VII. Of charity to the poor,
|The Law Concerning Divorce.
||B. C. 1451.|
1 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
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be
another man's wife.
3 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
4 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.
This is that permission which the Pharisees erroneously referred to as
Moses commanded to give a writing of divorcement. It was not so;
our Saviour told them that he only suffered it because of the hardness
of their hearts, lest, if they had not had liberty to divorce their
wives, they should have ruled them with rigour, and it may be, have
been the death of them. It is probable that divorces were in use before
(they are taken for granted,
and Moses thought it needful here to give some rules concerning them.
1. That a man might not divorce his wife unless he found some
uncleanness in her,
It was not sufficient to say that he did not like her, or that he liked
another better, but he must show cause for his dislike; something that
made her disagreeable and unpleasant to him, though it might not make
her so to another. This uncleanness must mean something less than
adultery; for, for that, she was to die; and less than the suspicion of
it, for in that case he might give her the waters of jealousy; but it
means either a light carriage, or a cross froward disposition, or some
loathsome sore or disease; nay, some of the Jewish writers suppose that
an offensive breath might be a just ground for divorce. Whatever is
meant by it, doubtless it was something considerable; so that their
modern doctors erred who allowed divorce for every cause, though ever
2. That it must be done, not by word of mouth, for that might be spoken
hastily, but by writing, and that put in due form, and solemnly
declared, before witnesses, to be his own act and deed, which was a
work of time, and left room for consideration, that it might not be
3. That the husband must give it into the hand of his wife, and send
her away, which some think obliged him to endow her and make provision
for her, according to her quality and such as might help to marry her
again; and good reason he should do this, since the cause of quarrel
was not her fault, but her infelicity.
4. That being divorced it was lawful for her to marry another husband,
The divorce had dissolved the bond of marriage as effectually as death
could dissolve it; so that she was as free to marry again as if her
first husband had been naturally dead.
5. That if her second husband died, or divorced her, then still she
might marry a third, but her first husband should never take her again
which he might have done if she had not married another; for by that
act of her own she had perfectly renounced him for ever, and, as to him
was looked upon as defiled, though not as to another person. The Jewish
writers say that this was to prevent a most vile and wicked practice
which the Egyptians had of changing wives; or perhaps it was intended
to prevent men's rashness in putting away their wives; for the wife
that was divorced would be apt, in revenge, to marry another
immediately, and perhaps the husband that divorced her, how much soever
he though to better himself by another choice, would find the next
worse, and something in her more disagreeable, so that he would wish
for his first wife again. "No" (says this law) "you shall not have her,
you should have kept her when you had her." Note, It is best to be
content with such things as we have, since changes made by discontent
often prove for the worse. The uneasiness we know is commonly better,
though we are apt to think it worse, than that which we do not know. By
the strictness of this law God illustrates the riches of his grace in
his willingness to be reconciled to his people that had gone a whoring
Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again to
me. For his thoughts and ways are above ours.
|The Law of Divorce.
||B. C. 1451.|
5 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
6 No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to
pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge.
7 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
8 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
9 Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam by the way,
after that ye were come forth out of Egypt.
10 When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go
into his house to fetch his pledge.
11 Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend
shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.
12 And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his
13 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
I. Provision made for the preservation and confirmation of love between
This fitly follows upon the laws concerning divorce, which would be
prevented if their affection to each other were well settled at first.
If the husband were much abroad from his wife the first year, his love
to her would be in danger of cooling, and of being drawn aside to
others whom he would meet with abroad; therefore his service to his
country in war, embassies, or other public business that would call him
from home, shall be dispensed with, that he may cheer up the wife
that he has taken. Note,
1. It is of great consequence that love be kept up between husband and
wife, and that every thing be very carefully avoided which might make
them strange one to another, especially at first; for in that relation,
where there is not the love that should be, there is an inlet ready to
abundance of guilt and grief.
2. One of the duties of that relation is to cheer up one another under
the cares and crosses that happen, as helpers of each other's joy; for
a cheerful heart does good like a medicine.
II. A law against man-stealing,
It was not death by the law of Moses to steal cattle or goods; but to
steal a child, or a weak and simple man, or one that a man had in his
power, and to make merchandize of him, this was a capital crime, and
could not be expiated, as other thefts, by restitution--so much is a
man better than a sheep,
It was a very heinous offence, for,
1. It was robbing the public of one of its members.
2. It was taking away a man's liberty, the liberty of a free-born
Israelite, which was next in value to his life.
3. It was driving a man out from the inheritance of the land, to the
privileges of which he was entitled, and bidding him go serve other
gods, as David complains against Saul,
1 Samuel 26:19.
III. A memorandum concerning the leprosy,
1. The laws concerning it must be carefully observed. The laws
concerning it we had,
They are here said to be commanded to the priests and Levites,
and therefore are not repeated in a discourse to the people; but the
people are here charged, in case of leprosy, to apply to the priest
according to the law, and to abide by his judgment, so far as it agreed
with the law and the plain matter of fact. The plague of leprosy being
usually a particular mark of God's displeasure for sin, he in whom the
signs of it did appear ought not to conceal it, nor cut out the signs
of it, nor apply to the physician for relief; but he must go to the
priest, and follow his directions. Thus those that feel their
consciences under guilt and wrath must not cover it, nor endeavour to
shake off their convictions, but by repentance, and prayer, and humble
confession, take the appointed way to peace and pardon.
2. The particular case of Miriam, who was smitten with leprosy for
quarrelling with Moses, must not be forgotten. It was an explication of
the law concerning the leprosy. Remember that, and,
(1.) "Take heed of sinning after the similitude of her transgression,
by despising dominions and speaking evil of dignities, lest you thereby
bring upon yourselves the same judgment."
(2.) "If any of you be smitten with a leprosy, expect not that the law
should be dispensed with, nor think it hard to be shut out of the camp
and so made a spectacle; there is no remedy: Miriam herself, though a
prophetess and the sister of Moses, was not exempted, but was forced to
submit to this severe discipline when she was under this divine
rebuke." Thus David, Hezekiah, Peter, and other great men, when they
had sinned, humbled themselves, and took to themselves shame and grief;
let us not expect to be reconciled upon easier terms.
IV. Some necessary orders given about pledges for the security of money
lent. They are not forbidden to take such securities as would save the
lender from loss, and oblige the borrower to be honest; but,
1. They must not take the millstone for a pledge
for with that they ground the corn that was to be bread for their
families, or, if it were a public mill, with it the miller got his
livelihood; and so it forbids the taking of any thing for a pledge by
the want of which a man was in danger of being undone. Consonant to
this is the ancient common law of England, which provides that no man
be distrained of the utensils or instruments of his trade or
profession, as the axe of a carpenter, or the books of a scholar, or
beasts belonging to the plough, as long as there are other beasts of
which distress may be made (Coke, 1 Inst. fol. 47). This
teaches us to consult the comfort and subsistence of others as much as
our own advantage. That creditor who cares not though his debtor and
his family starve, nor is at all concerned what become of them, so he
may but get his money or secure it, goes contrary, not only to the law
of Christ, but even to the law of Moses too.
2. They must not go into the borrower's house to fetch the pledge, but
must stand without, and he must bring it,
The borrower (says Solomon) is servant to the lender;
therefore lest the lender should abuse the advantage he has against
him, and improve it for his own interest, it is provided that he shall
take not what he pleases, but what the borrower can best spare. A man's
house is his castle, even the poor man's house is so, and is here taken
under the protection of the law.
3. That a poor man's bed-clothes should never be taken for a pledge,
This we had before,
If they were taken in the morning, they must be brought back again at
night, which is in effect to say that they must not be taken at all.
"Let the poor debtor sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee," that
is, "pray for thee, and praise God for thy kindness to him." Note, Poor
debtors ought to be sensible (more sensible than commonly they are) of
the goodness of those creditors that do not take all the advantage of
the law against them, and to repay their kindnesses by their prayers
for them, when they are not in a capacity to repay it in any other way.
"Nay, thou shalt not only have the prayers and good wishes of thy poor
brother, but it shall be righteousness to thee before the Lord thy
God," that is, "It shall be accepted and rewarded as an act of
mercy to thy brother and obedience to thy God, and an evidence of thy
sincere conformity to the law. Though it may be looked upon by men as
an act of weakness to deliver up the securities thou hast for thy debt,
yet it shall be looked upon by thy God as an act of goodness, which
shall in no wise lose its reward."
|Justice and Generosity.
||B. C. 1451.|
14 Thou shalt not oppress a 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:
15 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
16 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.
17 Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor
of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge:
18 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.
19 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
20 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.
21 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.
22 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land
of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
I. Masters are commanded to be just to their poor servants,
1. They must not oppress them, by overloading them with work, by giving
them undue and unreasonable rebukes, or by withholding from them proper
maintenance. A servant, though a stranger to the commonwealth of
Israel, must not be abused: "For thou wast a bondman in the land
where thou wast a stranger
and thou knowest what a grievous thing it is to be oppressed by a
task-master, and therefore, in tenderness to those that are servants
and strangers, and in gratitude to that God who set thee at liberty and
settled thee in a country of thy own, thou shalt not oppress a
servant." Let not masters be tyrants to their servants, for their
Master is in heaven. See
2. They must be faithful and punctual in paying them their wages:
"At his day thou shalt give him his hire, not only pay it in
time, without further delay. As soon as he had done his day's work, if
he desire it, let him have his day's wages," as those labourers
when evening had come. he that works by day-wages is supposed to
live from hand to mouth, and cannot have to-morrow's bread for his
family till be is paid for this day's labour. If the wages be
(1.) It will be grief to the servant, for, poor man, he sets his
heart upon it,. or, as the word is, he lifts up his soul to
it, he is earnestly desirous of it, as the reward of his work
and depends upon it as the gift of God's providence for the maintenance
of his family. A compassionate master, though it should be somewhat
inconvenient to himself, would not disappoint the expectation of a poor
servant that was so fond to think of receiving his wages. But that is
not the worst.
(2.) It will be guilt to the master. "The injured servant will cry
against thee to the Lord; since he has no one else to appeal to, he
will lodge his appeal in the court of heaven, and it will be sin to
thee." Or, if he do not complain, the cause will speak for itself, the
"hire of the labourers which is kept back by fraud will itself
It is a greater sin than most people think it is, and will be found so
in the great day, to put hardships upon poor servants, labourers, and
workmen, that we employ. God will do them right if men do not.
II. Magistrates and judges are commanded to be just in their
1. In those which we call pleas of the crown a standing rule is
here given, that the fathers shall not be put to death for the
children, nor the children for the fathers,
If the children make themselves obnoxious to the law, let them suffer
for it, but let not the parents suffer either for them or with them; it
is grief enough to them to see their children suffer: if the parents be
guilty, let them die for their own sin; but though God, the sovereign
Lord of life, sometimes visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the
children, especially the sin of idolatry, and when he deals with
nations in their national capacity, yet he does not allow men to do so.
Accordingly, we find Amaziah sparing the children, even when the
fathers were put to death for killing the king,
2 Kings 14:6.
It was in an extraordinary case, and no doubt by special direction from
heaven, that Saul's sons were put to death for his offence, and they
died rather as sacrifices than as malefactors,
2 Samuel 21:9,14.
2. In common pleas between party and party, great care must be taken
that none whose cause was just should fare the worse for their
weakness, nor for their being destitute of friends, as strangers,
fatherless, and widows
"Thou shalt not pervert their judgment, nor force them to give
their very raiment for a pledge, by defrauding them of their right."
Judges must be advocates for those that cannot speak for themselves and
have no friends to speak for them.
III. The rich are commanded to be kind and charitable to the poor. Many
ways they are ordered to be so by the law of Moses. The particular
instance of charity here prescribed is that they should not be greedy
in gathering in their corn, and grapes, and olives, so as to be afraid
of leaving any behind them, but be willing to overlook some, and let
the poor have the gleanings,
1. "Say not, 'It is all my own, and why should not I have it?' But
learn a generous contempt of property in small matters. One sheaf or
two forgotten will make thee never the poorer at the year's end, and it
will do somebody good, if thou have it not."
2. "Say not, 'What I give I will give, and know whom I give it
to, why should I leave it to be gathered by I know not whom, that will
never thank me.' But trust God's providence with the disposal of thy
charity, perhaps that will direct it to the most necessitous." Or,
"Thou mayest reasonably think it will come to the hands of the most
industrious, that are forward to seek and gather that which this law
provides for them."
3. "Say not, 'What should the poor do with grapes and olives? It is
enough for them to have bread and water;' for, since they have the same
senses that the rich have, why should not they have so me little share
of the delights of sense?" Boaz ordered handfuls of corn to be left on
purpose for Ruth, and God blessed him. All that is left is not