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Deuteronomy 24

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Laws Concerning Divorce Laws Dealing with Humanitarian and Religious Obligations (23:15-25:19) Divorce and Remarriage Divorce
24:1-4 24:1-4 24:1-4 24:1-4
Miscellaneous Laws   Various Laws Protection of the Individual
24:5 24:5 24:5 24:5
24:6-7 24:6 24:6 24:6
  24:7 24:7 24:7
24:8-9 24:8-9 24:8-9 24:8-9
24:10-13 24:10-13 24:10-13 24:10-13
24:14-16 24:14-15 24:14-15 24:14-15
  24:16 24:16 24:16
24:17-18 24:17-18 24:17-18 24:17-18
(24:19-25:4) 24:19-25:3 24:19-20 24:19-22 24:19
      24:20
  24:21-22   24:21
      24:22

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:1-4
  
1"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, 3and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance."

24:1-4 "when. . .then" This construction is a Qal perfect (BDB 224, KB 243) of "come to pass" with the hypothetical particle (BDB 49). This hypothetical situation is continued for the first three verses. Verses 1-4 are one sentence with the conclusion stated in v. 4. Notice that this is not a general discussion on divorce, but a special case of divorce, remarriage, and divorce/death and remarriage to the original partner. It is difficult to draw too many universal truths from this context. Even Jesus discussion about this passage and the issue of divorce is colored by the religious leaders' attempts to trap Him in controversy for the purpose of reducing His support among the people and to find legal/theological grounds to charge Him. Divorce has never been the best option!

▣ "she finds no favor in his eyes" This common verb (BDB 592, KB 619) is used twice in this verse (first, Qal imperfect and the second Qal perfect). It is used in the sense of "to recognize an existing condition" (cf. 22:14,17).

The term "favor" (BDB 336) is used of both God's favor (e.g., Gen. 6:8; Exod. 33:17) and mankind's (e.g., Gen. 30:27; 33:8,10,15; Ruth 2:2,10,13). It means a favorable acceptance or attitude of responsiveness. Here it is negated. It recognized the fallen condition of human love, which is sometimes fickle and fleeting.

This text has been a source of great controversy among the rabbis. Shammai (the conservative group of rabbis) said it only referred to adultery, while Hillel (the liberal group of rabbis) said it could refer to anything, even trivial things (i.e., bad food, bad in-law relations, found a prettier woman). In Israel only the husband had the legal right of divorce.

NASB"some indecency"
NKJV"some uncleanness"
NRSV"something objectionable"
TEV"something about her that he doesn't like"
NJB"some impropriety"
JPSOA"something obnoxious"

Literally this is "the nakedness of a thing" (BDB 788). In 23:14 the same term is used in a non-moral sense. This cannot refer to proven adultery because the automatic penalty was death (cf. 22:22). Jesus, when quoting this text, seems to interpret it by the phrase "fornication" in Matt. 19:9, which was a Greek term (porneia) that involved any sexual impropriety or unfaithfulness. The term is meant to be ambiguous and, thereby covers the widest possible circumstances.

Moses wrote this text to protect the rejected, vulnerable wife. It is shocking to me that Jesus asserts that this legal protection of divorce and remarriage was never God's intention (cf. Matt. 5:27-32; 19:7-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:14-18), but Moses' idea because of the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites. How many other things recorded in the Pentateuch are not the intended will of God? Jesus, as Lord of Scripture, showed His authority by correcting both OT texts and their interpretation (cf. Matt. 5:17-48; Mark 7:1-23). This is distressing to us modern evangelicals who put such an emphasis on the Bible as the "word of God" (and it surely is!), but we must remember that Jesus is the Living Word and we only have a fraction of all the things He did and said (cf. John 20:30). The Bible is primarily designed to first give us salvation (cf. John 20:31; II Tim. 3:15) and then to guide us in living the Christian life (cf. II Tim.3:16-17). We have all the information that we need to be saved and live a life pleasing to God. We do not need additional rules and laws. The texts we have and the indwelling Spirit guide us from the texts we have into the areas of uncertainty. I am reminded that Jesus commented that all Scriptural teaching on how to live for God is summed up in only two priority statements (cf. Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28):

1. Deut. 6:4-5 - love God completely

2. Lev. 19:18 - love your neighbor as yourself

 

▣ "certificate of divorce" This was a legal document of separation. It may have involved giving back the dowry. This later required an involved legal procedure which hopefully gave time for the partners to reconcile, but here it seems to be written by the husband or his representative (i.e., a Levite).

Divorce and remarriage are also discussed in relation to priests in Lev. 21:7,14 and 22:13. It must have been common (cf. Num. 30:9).

24:2 "becomes another man's wife" The right of remarriage was assumed and stated. This was the very purpose of the procedure.

24:3 "if the latter husband turns against her" The word "if" is not in the Hebrew MSS. It is assuming another hypothetical situation (like v. 1).

The verb "turns against" is literally "hates" (BDB 971, KB 1338, Qal perfect) and was used in Aramaic for "divorce."

▣ "if the latter husband dies" This is another possible scenario.

24:4 "her former husband. . .is not allowed to take her again to be his wife" The original couple are encouraged to reconcile (legal procedure of the bill of divorcement), but once separated and the wife remarries, reconciliation is forbidden! This is the purpose of all of the conditions found in vv. 1-3. This may have been a way to protect the second marriage.

▣ "she has been defiled" The defilement seems to be related to knowing two different men sexually, which would make the original husband taking her again a type of adultery!

The ambiguity of the wording of the paragraph makes it difficult to pronounce universal spiritual principles. This is not a context on the evil of divorce and remarriage, but on the first husband taking his divorced wife again after a second marriage. Divorce and remarriage were common and not condemned in the ancient Near East.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary has an interesting comment:

"The very unusual form of the Hebrew verb used in verse 4 makes it clear that the woman in this case is the victim, not the guilty party. She has been forced to declare her uncleanness by the uncharitable actions of the first husband, and the second marriage demonstrates that another husband has been capable of accommodating whatever 'impurity' she was plagued with. The prohibition is aimed at preventing the first husband from marrying the woman again (in which case he might be able to realize some financial gain), whereas if the woman were impure the prohibition would be against her and would preclude a marriage relationship with anyone" (p. 198).

▣ "you shall not bring sin on the land" God desires strong, godly marriages and families. They provide strength, stability, and education for the next generation of covenant people. Marriage is modeled more than taught! Divorce is not the sin, but the first husband taking back his wife after another husband!

Two Prophets use this passage metaphorically to describe God's dealing with Israel's faithlessness (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:1,8). Going after other gods was considered "spiritual adultery."

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:5
  
5"When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken."

24:5 "When a man takes a new wife" The new husband was not required to serve in the army or perform other civic duties for one year. This was for the purpose of insuring an heir (cf. 20:7).

▣ "shall give happiness to his wife" This verb (BDB 970, KB 1333, Piel perfect) means "to rejoice" or "be glad." This was YHWH's purpose for His covenant people. The laws of Deuteronomy were to aid fallen humanity to obtain and maintain a happy, content society. 

The NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1252, has a good quote on this subject:

"Joy should also be prominent in family relationships. Moses exhorts the new husband to devote himself to make his wife happy (Deut. 24:5) and the sage counsels the husband to rejoice in the wife of his youth (Pro. 5:18). Although the father of a fool cannot rejoice (Pro. 17:21), a wise son brings great joy and delight to his father ( Prov.10:1; 15:20; 23:24-25; 27:11; 29:3)."

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:6
  
6"No one shall take a handmill or an upper millstone in pledge, for he would be taking a life in pledge."

24:6 "handmill or an upper millstone" This refers to the upper stone of a two-stone grinding mill (BDB 932, 939, cf. Exod. 11:5; Jdgs. 9:53; II Sam. 11:21), which was used to prepare daily bread. The upper part was useless without the matching bottom piece.

▣ "in pledge" This term, "in pledge," (BDB 286, KB 285) basically means "to bind." When one borrows he is obligated to repay. To secure this repayment (without interest to a fellow Israelite) the creditor could take something of value and hold it:

1. grinding stone, 24:6

2. garments, 24:17; Exod. 22:25-27; Job 24:7,10

3. ancestral land and houses, Neh. 5:3 (possibly Job 24:2)

4. an essential animal, Job 24:3

5. essential help, the children, Exod. 21:7; Lev. 25:39-43; II Kgs. 4:1; Job 24:9

Each of these items were a necessary part of daily agricultural existence. To remove any one of these jeopardized the family, even life itself. YHWH's compassion and care for Israel was to be emulated by those Israelites who had resources. God would bless them for their compassion. They would be given more so that they could share more (cf. v. 13; II Cor. 9:6-10).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:7
  
7"If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you."

24:7 "kidnapping" The Hebrew verb here is "stealing" (BDB 170, KB 198, Qal perfect). "Kidnaping" was seen as stealing a life (literally, "stealing nephesh, BDB 659). Many believe this is what the Ten Commandments refer to in the command "Thou shall not steal." The penalty for this was death, which seems severe for simple theft (cf. Exod. 21:16; Deut. 5:19).

NASB"deals... violently"
NKJV"mistreats"
NRSV"enslaving"
TEV"make them your slaves"
NJB"he makes him is slave"

The root (BDB 771) has several meanings:

1. sheaf, Deut. 24:19 or bind sheaves, Ps. 129:7

2. omer - BDB I, Exod. 16:18,22,32,33

3. deal tyrannically - BDB II, Deut. 21:14; 24:7

4. live long (Arabic root) - BDB III

The pronunciation and context designated which meaning was intended for this trilateral root. Option #3 is found only twice in the OT, both in Deuteronomy.

▣ "so you shall purge the evil from among you" This is a recurrent idiom. See note at 13:5 (cf. 17:7,12; 19:13,19; 21:9,21; 22:21,22,24; Jdgs. 20:13).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:8-9
  
8"Be careful against an infection of leprosy, that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. 9Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt."

24:8 "Be careful" The verb (BDB 1036, KB 1581) is used three times in this verse:

1. Niphal imperative, "be careful"

2. Qal infinitive construct, plus the adverb "very" (BDB 547) and the verb "to do" (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal infinitive construct)

3. Qal imperfect, "careful to do" plus verb "to do" (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperfect)

The basic meaning is "to keep," "to watch," or "to preserve." Careful obedience to YHWH's guidelines is stressed by the three-fold repetition.

▣ "leprosy" This (BDB 863) is not the modern disease as we know it. This term covered many different things (i.e., skin, clothes, leather, houses). The guidelines and procedures are discussed in Leviticus 13-14. This implies that Leviticus was already available at this time. The Pentateuch is a unified whole.

24:9 The incident referred to is recorded in Numbers 12, where both Aaron and Miriam complained about Moses' leadership and marriage to a Cushite woman (black woman). In response YHWH affirms Moses' leadership and inflicts Miriam with leprosy (Miriam loses her skin pigment), but at Moses' intercession, He restores her color.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:10-13
  
10"When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. 11You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. 12If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. 13When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the Lord your God."

24:10 "you shall not enter his house to take his pledge" The honor and privacy of one's home was protected. This man also could choose which garment to use as the pledge.

The verb (BDB 716, KB 778, Qal infinitive construct) is intensified by the use of the same noun (BDB 716) "pledge." A pledge was a physical object, in this context, a man's outer garment used as security for a loan (cf. vv. 11-13).

These garments were not very valuable, but were necessary to the daily needs of the poor. Taking a man's garment was more than security for a loan. It was an expression of contempt for the poor man. In God's eyes all humans are valuable because they are made in His image and likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). God's covenant people must recognize the value and worth He places on humans and respond appropriately!

24:12 "If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge" This referred to the outer cloak which the poor used as a sleep covering (cf. Exod. 22:26-27).

24:13 "you shall surely return" This is the infinitive absolute combined with the imperfect verb of the same root (BDB 996, KB 1427), which denotes intensity.

▣ "and bless you" YHWH defends the poor, widow, alien, and orphan's rights and person. To abuse them caused a reaction from YHWH Himself (e.g., Exod. 22:23; Deut. 15:9; 24:15)!

▣ "it will be righteousness for you" The Septuagint understands this term as it is used here to refer to Jewish "almsgiving" (cf. 6:25; 15:7-11; Matt. 6:1-4).

SPECIAL TOPIC: ALMSGIVING

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:14-15
  
14"You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. 15You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the Lord and it become sin in you."

24:14 "or one of your aliens" God's care for the widow, orphan, and alien is clearly seen in Deuteronomy (cf. 10:18; 14:29; 16:11,14; 24:17,19,20,21; 26:12,13; 27:19).

24:15 "You shall give him his wages on his day" The poor needed (i.e., "set his heart on it") the daily wage to buy food for himself and his family. The landowner wanted to keep it to assure that the worker would return to work the next day (cf. Lev. 19:13; Mal. 3:5; James 5:4).

▣ "so that he will not cry against you to the Lord" God cares and hears the cry of the poor, alienated and ostracized! See note at 24:13.

▣ "it become sin in you" In context this is the opposite condition of "righteousness" in v. 13.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:16
 
16"Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin."

24:16 This verse is very similar to Ezek. 18:1-33; 17:12-20; Jer. 31:29-30; and II Kgs. 14:6. It focuses on the rare OT concept of individual responsibility. This is a balance to Exod. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18. The OT usually focuses on corporality (cf. Deut. 5:9).

Notice the three-fold use of the verb "put to death" (BDB 559, KB 562, all Hophal imperfects). Rebellion is a serious matter! Disobedience has consequences!

This law does not refer to rebellion against God (e.g., idolatry), but to actions designated civil (e.g., acts against established civil authority or acts against a covenant partner).

Humans are held responsible for personal sins, but often these sins are related to family or cultural practices. All of us are historically, culturally conditioned. We make choices, but these choices are limited by precedent. Society, family, and individuals are inseparably bound together! All are affected by parents, culture, and personal choices! God judges society, families, and individuals. Human freedom is a wonderful/terrible gift!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:17-18
  
17You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow's garment in pledge. 18But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing."

24:17 "You shall not pervert the justice due" The verb (BDB 639, KB 692) basically means "stretch out," "spread out" or "turn." Often this is used metaphorically of "turn to the right or left and leaving God's clearly revealed law" (cf. Deut. 5:32; 17:11,20; 28:14; Josh. 1:7; 23:6).

There are several places where the object of this turning/perverting is "justice" (BDB 1048, cf. Exod. 23:6; Deut. 16:19; 24:17; 27:19; I Sam. 8:3; Pro. 17:23; Lam. 3:35; and Amos 2:7). Justice is YHWH's will for everyone in Israelite society because it reflects His character and treatment of them (cf. 32:4).

▣ "alien or an orphan, nor take a widow's garment in pledge" See 10:18 and Exod. 22:22-24. Moses' Law Code is different from the other ancient Mesopotamian Law Codes in its care for the poor, needy, and socially powerless!

24:18 "But you shall remember" Notice that this emphasis on remembering (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal perfect) is mentioned three times in this chapter (24:9,18,22). The past does affect the future. Israel was to remember and then act appropriately today!

▣ "redeemed" See Special Topic at 7:8.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:19-20
  
19"When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow."

24:19-21 These agricultural regulations were meant to provide food for the poor and needy (see Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Ruth 2). This is called "gleaning."

There are several laws in Deuteronomy about providing food for the needy:

1. the third-year local tithe for the poor, 14:28-29; 26:12-15

2. food provided at the celebration of the Feast of Weeks/Feast of Booths, 16:9-17

3. the yearly gleanings from the annual harvests, 24:19-21

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 24:21-22
  
21"When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing."

24:22 The Israelites were to have compassion on servants and aliens because they once shared this condition in Egypt. God was gracious to them; they, too, should be gracious to others!

Several times in Deuteronomy the call to remember Israel's period of enslavement is used to stimulate current action:

1. all in the community to observe the Sabbath, 5:12-15

2. release the Israelite slave on the seventh year, 15:12-18

3. all in the community to participate in the Feast of Weeks, 16:9-17

4. do not pervert justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow's garment in pledge, 24:17-18

5. do not reap all the way to the corners of the field and do not do a second reaping, 24:19-22

6. using other words, but with the same emphasis, obedience, 6:10-15; 8:2,18

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How does Deuteronomy 24:1-4 relate divorce and remarriage?

2. How does this relate to Jesus' words on divorce?

3. List the humanitarian elements in this chapter.

4. Why is v. 16 so very important? Relate it to Deuteronomy 5:9.

 

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods