Deuteronomy 21

Laws About Various Human Rights

Deuteronomy 21:1 – 22:12

21:1-9
These verses outline the procedure to be followed in cases where the dead body of an individual was found without any knowledge of how the individual was slain (21:1). The elders were to determine the distance from the murder site to the nearest city (21:2). Once the nearest city was determined, the elders were to take a heifer that had never been worked to a valley that had never been cultivated and there break the heifer’s neck (21:3-4). The elders were to wash their hands over the dead animal and confess that they had no knowledge of how the individual was slain (21:5-7). There they were to pray for forgiveness and the removal of the guilt of innocent blood (21:8-9).

21:10-14
These verses address the matter of female war prisoners. Israelites were permitted to marry such women (if they were from cities outside the boundaries of Canaan as per Deuteronomy 20:15 … recall the prohibition against marrying Canaanite women in Deuteronomy 7:1-4). An Israelite soldier was not permitted to rape or mistreat female war prisoners (as other armies did). This law protected the dignity of the women taken captive.

21:15-17
These verses discuss the inheritance rights of the first-born son in polygamous marriages. Regardless of personal preference, the father was obligated to give a double portion of all he possessed to his first-born son; even if it was the son of the wife he loved least.

21:18-21
These verses discuss what was to be done in cases involving a son who willfully and persistently disobeyed and dishonored his parents. If, after much warning, the son refused to change his ways, he was to be taken to the city gates and stoned to death. Such action would certainly have a deterrent effect on other children. It should be noted that there is no record in Scripture that such severe discipline was ever carried out.

21:22-23
This verse states that after a man was put to death for a crime, it was permissible to publicly hang and display the body (perhaps as a means of calling attention to the seriousness of breaking God’s law) until sunset, at which time the body was to be buried.

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