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Deuteronomy: Chapter 25

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1Suppose two persons have a dispute and enter into litigation, and the judges decide between them, declaring one to be in the right and the other to be in the wrong. 2If the one in the wrong deserves to be flogged, the judge shall make that person lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of lashes proportionate to the offense. 3Forty lashes may be given but not more; if more lashes than these are given, your neighbor will be degraded in your sight.

4You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

5When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband's brother to her, 6and the first‐born whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. 7But if the man has no desire to marry his brother's widow, then his brother's widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, “My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.” 8Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I have no desire to marry her,” 9then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.” 10Throughout Israel his family shall be known as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.”

11If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, 12you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.

13You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. 14You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small. 15You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 16For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.

17Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, 18how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God. 19Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget.

Text Commentary view alone

Chs 24–25 : Laws promoting social harmony.

24.1–22 :

The chapter, like the previous one, begins with a restriction on marriage and concludes stipulating care for those in need (note 22.30 = 23.1 Heb).

1–4 :

This complex law, theologically applied by two prophets (Isa 50.1; Jer 3.1,8 ), addresses only remarriage after divorce to a wife who subsequently married another; it does not prohibit remarriage in general. Biblical law includes no general laws of either marriage or divorce, only special cases that raise particular ethical or religious issues.

1 :

Male‐initiated divorce was the norm, though there is some evidence in the Near East and in the Jewish Elephantine papyri (fifth century BCE) of contracts permitting either party to initiate proceedings. He finds … about her, formula for disloyal action or betrayal of trust (1 Sam 29.3,6,8; 2 Kings 17.4; cf. 1 Sam 12.5 ). Objectionable, “indecent” ( 23.14 ). It is unclear from the term used what valid criteria for divorce were. Certificate of divorce, legally freeing her to remarry.

4 :

After she has been defiled, not in general, since she is permitted to remarry, but specifically as regards relations with her first husband.

5 :

Another of the rules for holy war ( 20.1–20; 21.10–14; 23.9–14 ). Newly married, contrast the premarital deferral from service in 20.7 . Be happy with, better, “give happiness to,” including conjugal joy.

6 :

The law prohibits oppression in economic relations (like vv. 10–15 ). Take … in pledge, accept as collateral for a loan. Mill or an upper millstone, like the “garment” of v. 12 , they are essential to survival, and thus may not be taken.

7 :

Restricts the application of Ex 21.16 to kidnappers of fellow Israelites; perhaps also an interpretation of Deut 5.19 .

8–9 :

Leprous skin disease, not leprosy but an unidentified inflammation; see Lev 13.1–14.57 . Remember … Miriam, see Num 12.1–15 .

10–13 :

Expands upon Ex 22.26–27 (cf. Am 2.8; Prov 20.16; 22.27; 27.13; Job 22.6 ). The Yavneh Yam inscription (late seventh century BCE) deals with a similar case.

14–15 :

See Ex 22.21–24; Lev 19.13 . Israel's ethics are based upon the conviction that God identifies with and vindicates the oppressed.

14 :

The prohibition against economic exploitation is not contingent upon ethnicity or nationality; see 1.16n.

16 :

This law restricting punishment to the responsible individual, cited in 2 Kings 14.6 , applies to both civil and criminal law. Collective responsibility applies to offenses against God ( 5.9–10; Ex 34.7; Num 16.31–33; Josh 7.24–25; 2 Sam 21.1–9 ), a theological principle subsequently brought into conformity with the law of individual liability ( 7.10; Jer 31.29–30; Ezek 18 ).

17 :

You shall not deprive … of justice, in Hebrew, identical to the comprehensive “You shall not distort justice” ( 16.19 ). This law, therefore, ensures protection of the most vulnerable, the resident alien or the orphan. Take … in pledge, better, “seize” to force payment (see Job 24.3 ). This accords the widow special protection; for day laborers, see vv. 10–13 .

18 :

See 15.15 .

19–22 :

Lev 19.9–10; 23.22 . The story of Ruth, both a widow and an alien, presupposes such laws, which assign harvest gleanings to the needy, allowing them to eat without begging for food.

20 :

Beat, with poles, so as to harvest the olives (Isa 17.6 ).

25.1–3 :

A double restriction upon judicial flogging, also employed for discipline in nonjudicial contexts (Ex 21.20; Prov 10.13; 26.3; 1 Kings 12.14 ).

2 :

In his presence, under the judge's direct supervision, “by [his] count” (the more likely rendering of NRSV number of lashes).

3 :

Forty lashes, a definitive restriction for which there is no parallel in Near Eastern law; the Middle Assyrian Laws stipulate floggings of five to one hundred lashes. Your neighbor, the criminal, despite his judicial status, retains human dignity.

4 :

For similar humane treatment of animals, see 22.6–7; Prov 12.10 .

5–10 :

Biblical, Near Eastern, and Roman inheritance law assigned special responsibilities to the “husband's brother” (vv. 5–7 ), for which Hebrew had a special term (cf. Latin “levir,” hence “levirate marriage”). See Gen 38.8 and Ruth 4.5–6 , which reflect variations of this law.

5 :

Outside the family, NRSV has added the family; more likely, the frame of reference is the larger clan. The widow's marriage outside of the clan would diminish the landholding of her clan and add it to the husband's, affecting the original equitable division of land among the tribes (Josh 13–21 ). Her husband's brother shall go in to her, possibly the brother's death provided an exception to the incest prohibition of marrying a sister‐in‐law (Lev 18.16; 20.21 ); alternatively, the Holiness Collection's incest laws might intend to prohibit levirate marriage altogether.

6 :

Firstborn alone here counts to the brother; cf. Gen 38.8 .

9 :

Legal title was symbolically claimed by walking over the land (see 11.25n. ). Thus, transfer of title entailed passing the sandal (Ruth 4.7 ), while renunciation of title, as here, was symbolized by removal of the sandal. The intent of the ceremony is public shaming, since the dereliction of duty makes the brother's wife a widow, abandoning her to the class of the impoverished: “the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows” ( 14.29n. ).

10 :

Known as, lit. “called by the name of,” thus explicitly applying a form of retributive justice ( 19.19n. ). For refusing to build up the deceased's “name” (vv. 6–7 ) and “house” (v. 9 ), the brother's own house is stigmatized by its new name.

11–12 :

An additional law dealing with threats to reproduction (cf. Ex 21.22–25 ). Physical mutilation (characteristic in the Middle Assyrian Laws) is nowhere else prescribed in the Bible, except in the general formula for talion ( 19.21; Ex 21.23–24; Lev 24.19–20 ). That rationale does not apply here, however, since there is no symmetry between injury and punishment. The issue may rather be the perceived insult to dignity (cf. Laws of Hammurabi § 195).

13–16 :

Cf. Laws of Hammurabi § 108; Lev 19.35–36; Am 8.5 .

14 :

By fraudulently using two different sets of counter‐weights—small ones to sell grain but large ones to purchase it—a merchant could turn a tidy profit.

17–19 :

The tradition presupposes Ex 17.8–16 , in which the Amalekites, a fierce desert tribe, attacked Israel (cf. Ps 83.4–8 ).

18 :

These details are not reflected in Ex 17.8–16 ; they may have been supplied by the Deuteronomic author in order to justify the extirpation of Amalek (v. 19; cf. Ex 17.14; 1 Sam 15.2–3 ).

19 :

Rest, see 3.20; 12.9n.

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