Deuteronomy 25:1-3. HUMANITY IN PUNISHMENTS.
(1) They shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.—“I will not justify the wicked” (Exodus 23:7). “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). It should be noticed that justify is here used forensically, not meaning to make righteous, but to treat as righteous. Those who object to this sense in St. Paul’s Epistles, will find it hard to put any other sense upon the word in the rest of Holy Scripture.
(2) If the wicked man be worthy to be beaten.—Literally, a son of beating, or of Haccôth, according to the Hebrew. The treatise called Maccôth, in the Talmud, describes the infliction of the punishment in later times, when “of the Jews five times” St. Paul “received forty stripes save one.” The details have been described by Canon Farrar in an appendix to his Life of St. Paul.
Shall cause him to lie down.—The Talmud interprets the position as not sitting nor standing, nor exactly lying, but with the body inclined.
Before his face.—This is interpreted as on the front of his body. The thirty-nine stripes were given thirteen on one shoulder, thirteen on the other, and thirteen on the breast.
(3) Forty stripes.—The Talmud says that they considered first what a man could bear, and flogged him according to their estimate. In some cases, if the whole punishment could not be administered at once, it was divided. It is contemplated as possibly fatal, however.
Lest . . . thy brother should seem vile unto thee.—The punishment was not considered to be any degradation, after it had been inflicted. It was inflicted in the synagogue, and the law was read mean while from Deuteronomy 28:58-59, with one or two other passages.
(4) Thou shalt not muzzle the ox.—We have a comment on these words from St. Paul in two places (1 Corinthians 9:9, and 1 Timothy 5:18). It is not only written for the sake of the oxen, but to prove that the “labourer is worthy of his hire;” “they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.”
(5) If brethren dwell together.—This law is made the subject of a whole treatise in the Talmud, called Yebâmôth. The object of the law was held to be attained if the family of the dead man was perpetuated, and did not become extinct. And therefore the marriage specified was not necessarily between the brother and the brother’s wife, but might be between other representatives of the two persons in question. (See Ruth 4)
The law is older than Moses. We first hear of it in the household of Judah the son of Jacob (Genesis 38:8). The violation of the law then was punished with death, not with disgrace only.
But that which makes the law most memorable, is the teaching elicited from the lips of our Saviour by the question which the Sadducees raised upon it (see marginal reference). It is worth while to observe that the law itself demands that in some sense there should be a resurrection. Boaz puts it thus (Ruth 4:5), “to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.” Why should the name of the dead be kept up, if the dead has passed out of existence? We may well believe that this law was partly intended (like baptism for the dead, or like giving children the names of their departed progenitors) for the express purpose of keeping alive the hope of resurrection in the minds of the chosen people.
(11,12) When men strive together. . . .—Another precept of humanity. In Exodus 21:22, “If men strive and hurt a woman with child,” punishment or compensation must follow. The law in this place is the counterpart of that. Men must be protected as well as women.
Putteth forth her hand and taketh him.—“Him,” i.e., him that smiteth her husband. The precept is to enforce modesty as well as to protect humanity.
So Leviticus 19:35-36. Among the laws of moral holiness comes the law of just weights and measures.
(16) An abomination unto the Lord.—So in Proverbs 11:1, “a false balance is abomination to the Lord.” (See also Amos 8:4-8.) The protection of the poor is the chief practical end in this; rich men can take care of themselves. Poor men are doubly robbed by short weight and measure, because they cannot protect themselves against it. The injustice tends to perpetuate their poverty.
At the end of all the precepts of humanity, the extermination of that people which is presented to us as the incarnation of inhumanity is decreed.
(18) He . . . smote the hindmost . . .—These details are not given in Exodus 17. Amalek’s attack follows the appearance of the stream of water from Horeb. There was nothing more natural than that the faint and weary should stay behind at the water side. There the Amalekites appear to have found them and cruelly massacred them.
(19) Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek.—This decree was entrusted to Joshua in the first instance, as the “servant of the Book” (Exodus 17:14); here it is enjoined upon the nation of Israel. It was carried out in several stages: by Barak and Gideon (Judges 5:14; Judges 6:3; Judges 7:12, &c.), by Saul and Samuel (1 Samuel 15), by David (1 Samuel 27:8-9; 1 Samuel 30:17), by the Simeonites (1 Chronicles 4:42-43), and lastly by Esther, who exterminated the Agagites in Haman’s house. No doubt any remnant of Amalek in the Persian empire under Mordecai would have shared Haman’s fate.