Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Uncleanness. Tertullian (contra Marc. iv.) reads, “if she be found guilty of any impurity,” negotium impudicum. Septuagint, “unseemly action;” and many learned commentators suppose that Moses only allows a divorce in cases of adultery, or in those which render the woman dangerous to a family, as if she had the leprosy, or some other infectious disorder, or was likely to corrupt the morals of her children, or if she were barren. The Pharisees were divided among themselves in determining the sense of this law, (Calmet) and they endeavoured to inveigle our Saviour, by proposing the question to him. If it were lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause, quacumque ex causa, or for any reason whatsoever, Matthew xix. 3. (Haydock) — Our Lord does not take notice of the limitation here added by Moses; (Matthew v. 31.) nor do the Pharisees, when he asks them, What did Moses command you? (Mark x. 3.) Whence it seems, that the liberty which was taken was very great, and that the limitation was not regarded. Our Saviour, nonetheless, alludes to it, when he admits that Moses permitted a divorce, in case of adultery. But he recalls them to the institution of marriage, and will no longer allow people to marry again, even in this case, as Moses had been forced to permit the Jews, on account of the hardness of their heart. (Calmet) — Before this permission, the Jews were therefore, it seems, much addicted to this practice. — Bill. The law does not command divorces; but in case the parties come to such a determination, it requires a bill to be given to the woman. The Jews require the greatest formality in drawing it up, and witnessing it, and they say the divorce must take place upon a fountain or river. (Schikard. Jur. iii. 9.) — Munster gives this form of a bill: “The 4th day of the month of Sivan, of the year 5293 from the creation of the world, in this place and in this city of N, T.[I,?] N, son of N, had a mind to divorce, and has divorced N, daughter of N, who hitherto has been my wife; and I grant her leave to go whither she has a mind, and to marry whomsoever she pleases, so that no one shall hinder her. In witness whereof, I have given her this bill of divorce, according to the ordinances of Moses and of Israel.” The Jews still assert their right to put away their wives. (Buxt. Syn. xxix.) (Calmet) — But it is sinful for them, or for any other, to marry the woman divorced, till the first husband be dead. If they do, they are guilty of adultery, as our Saviour and St. Paul repeatedly inculcate. (St. Augustine, de Adult. Conj. i. 11.) (Worthington)
Ver. 4. Defiled. This insinuates that the second marriage was a real adultery, (Calmet) and only tolerated by the law to prevent greater evils. (Haydock) — It might be said indeed that the woman was defiled, with regard to her former husband, who could not take her back without condemning his former proceeding (Calmet); as he would seem to have only lent her for some mean consideration. (Menochius) — Domitian took the privilege of a judge from a Roman knight, who had resumed his wife after he had divorced her for adultery. (Suetonius, viii.) But how then is the woman abominable before the Lord? Some say the thing itself is extremely dishonourable, as the Hebrew intimates, though the woman have done nothing but what the law allows. Grotius believes that the man might take back his wife, at any time, before she was married to another. But the Rabbins limit this privilege to three months after the date of separation. God forbids his priests to marry with those who had been divorced, as it is to be presumed that they have not been rejected by their former husbands without good reason, Leviticus xxi. 7. The man who cohabits with an adulteress, is deemed a fool; (Proverbs xviii. 22,) and some have believed, that it was necessary to put such away. But St. Paul advises a reconciliation, 1 Corinthians vii. 11. — To sin, or to incur the punishment due to it. (Calmet) — If the state connived at the transgression of the law, the judgments of God would fall upon the people.
Ver. 5. Wife. This indulgence was granted to those who had married a widow also. Hebrew, “a new wife,” as she was new to him, (Haydock) which right he could not claim, if he only resumed the one whom he had divorced. (R. Salom.; Drusius) See chap. xx. 7.
Ver. 6. Life, or the means of supporting himself. (Haydock) — The upper millstone was deemed the less necessary. In more ancient times it was customary to dry the wheat by fire, and afterwards to pound it in a mortar. Then millstones were invented, which slaves of the meanest condition had to turn. Pliny ([Natural History?] xviii. 10,) mentions, that some few water-mills were used in his time. But this useful invention had been neglected, till Belisarius restored it again in the fifth century, when he was besieged in Rome by the Goths. (Procop.) — Jonathan, and the paraphrast of Jerusalem, explain this quite in a different sense: “Thou shalt not use any enchantment for the consummation of marriage, since it would be to destroy the lives of the children to be born.”
Ver. 7. Soliciting. Hebrew, “stealing a soul;” (Menochius) or decoying one to a distance from home, where he may have an opportunity of selling him for a slave. (Haydock) (Exodus xxi. 16.)
Ver. 8. Leprosy. Do nothing which may expose you to the danger of being infected, and if you have the misfortune to contract it, obey the directions of the priests. (Calmet) — It seems from this and the following verse that God frequently punished disobedience to his ministers, as he did Mary [Miriam], (Numbers xii.,) by inflicting upon them this shameful disorder. (Haydock) — So he punished king Ozias, 2 Paralipomenon xxvi. (Menochius) — The design of this precept is, therefore, not so much to order people not to contract a disease, which they cannot perhaps always avoid, as to caution them against pride and rebellion. (Haydock)
Ver. 10. Pledge. This was left to the choice of the debtor, provided he gave sufficient. The Athenian and Roman laws allowed a person to search his neighbour’s house, for what he had lost: but he was to enter covered only with a short garment round his middle, (Calmet) to prevent his taking away any thing which did not belong to him.
Ver. 12. Night, if it be a garment or bed covering, which may be necessary for the poor man. (Haydock) — By allowing the creditor to keep the pledge such a short time, God wished to discourage the taking of any from such as were in real distress. (Menochius) — The same regulation required, that if a necessary implement for labour, during the day time, was pledged, it should be returned in the morning. (Calmet) — This was done every day, to admonish the creditor and the debtor to exercise mercy and justice in their respective situations. The debtor was to remember to do his utmost in order to pay his debts. (St. Augustine, q. 41.) — These daily debts were not remitted in the sabbatic years, according to the Rabbins, whose opinion seems very hard and inconsistent. (Haydock) — Solomon advises not to stand bond for another’s debts, Proverbs xx. 16., and xxii. 26. Many nations in the Indies allowed no action at law to recover debts, as the creditor ought to have taken his precautions before he parted with his money or merchandize. (Stobœus.; Strabo, xv.) (Calmet)
Ver. 13. Justice, or mercy, which never enters the breast of the unjust, Proverbs xii. 10. (Menochius)
Ver. 14. Hire. Hebrew, “Commit no violence (or fraud) towards an hired servant,” Leviticus xix. 13. (Haydock)
Ver. 15. Maintaineth: encourageth him. (Calmet) — Septuagint, “in it he placeth his hope.” (Haydock) — Day labourers are obliged to support themselves and families with their wages; (Menochius) so that if they agree to have them paid every day, it would be an injustice to detain them. (Haydock)
Ver. 16. Sin. Judges have no right to punish any but those who have transgressed. (Calmet) — God may for reasons known to himself, which cannot be unjust, visit the sins of the fathers upon their children; (Exodus xx. 5) and hence, (Josue vii.) he ordered the family of Achan to be involved in his punishment. Temporal sufferings, or death itself, are not however always a misfortune. They frequently prove a source of inconceivable blessings, Romans v. 3. (Haydock) — The Rabbins understand, that fathers and children are not to be received as witnesses against each other, (Onkelos) which seems foreign to the sense of the present law. (Calmet)
Ver. 17. Pervert. Thou shalt not pass an unjust sentence upon any one, particularly (Haydock) upon those who are least able to defend themselves. (Menochius)
Ver. 18. This thing. It is uncertain whether this refer to the preceding or to the following law. It may be applied to both, as the remembrance of the Egyptian slavery might teach God’s people not to oppress, but rather to shew mercy to those in distress. As the same thing is however repeated, ver. 22, it seems more probable that the present verse forbids any oppression. (Haydock)
Ver. 19. Forgot. The Rabbins say, that both the owner and the labourers must forget the sheaf: but this is a vain subtlety. (Calmet) — Josephus ([Antiquities?] iv. 8,) is more agreeable to the spirit of the law, when he (Haydock) observes that gleanings, and some of the fruit of the vine and olive trees, were to be left on purpose for the poor, Leviticus xix. 9. (Menochius)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Divorce permitted to avoid greater evil: the newly married must not go to war: of men-stealers, of leprosy, of pledges, of labourer’s hire, of justice, and of charity to the poor.
1 If *a man take a wife, and have her, and she find not favour in his eyes for some uncleanness: he shall write a bill of divorce, **and shall give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed, and marrieth another husband,
3 And he also hateth her, and hath given her a bill of divorce, and hath sent her out of his house or is dead:
4 The former husband cannot take her again to wife: because she is defiled, and is become abominable before the Lord: lest thou cause thy land to sin, which the Lord thy God shall give thee to possess.
5 When a man hath lately taken a wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall any public business be enjoined him, but he shall be free at home without fault, that for one year he may rejoice with his wife.
6 Thou shalt not take the nether, nor the upper millstone to pledge: for he hath pledged his life to thee.
7 If any man be found soliciting his brother of the children of Israel, and selling him shall take a price, he shall be put to death, and thou shalt take away the evil from the midst of thee.
8 Observe diligently that thou incur not the stroke of the leprosy, but thou shalt do whatsoever the priests of the Levitical race shall teach thee, according to what I have commanded them, and fulfil thou it carefully.
9 *Remember what the Lord your God did to Mary, in the way when you came out of Egypt.
10 When thou shalt demand of thy neighbour any thing that he oweth thee, thou shalt not go into his house to take away a pledge :
11 *But thou shalt stand without, and he shall bring out to thee what he hath.
12 But if he be poor, the pledge shall not lodge with thee that night,
13 But thou shalt restore it to him presently before the going down of the sun: that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee, and thou mayst have justice before the Lord thy God.
14 *Thou shalt not refuse the hire of the needy, and the poor, whether he be thy brother, or a stranger, that dwelleth with thee in the land, and is within thy gates:
15 But thou shalt pay him the price of his labour the same day, before the going down of the sun, because he is poor, and with it maintaineth his life: lest he cry against thee to the Lord, and it be reputed to thee for a sin.
16 *The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers, but every one shall die for his own sin.
17 Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless, neither shalt thou take away the widow’s raiment for a pledge.
18 Remember that thou wast a slave in Egypt, and the Lord thy God delivered thee from thence. Therefore I command thee to do this thing.
19 When thou hast reaped the corn in thy field, and hast forgot and left a sheaf, thou shalt not return to take it away: but thou shalt suffer the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow to take it away: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the works of thy hands.
20 If thou have gathered the fruit of thy olive-trees, thou shalt not return to gather whatsoever remaineth on the trees: but shalt leave it for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
21 If thou make the vintage of thy vineyard, thou shalt not gather the clusters that remain, but they shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.
22 Remember that thou also wast a bondman in Egypt, and therefore I command thee to do this thing.
1: Year of the World 2553. — ** Matthew v. 32. and xix. 7.; Mark x. 4.
9: Numbers xii. 10.
11: Exodus xxii. 16.
14: Leviticus xix. 13.; Tobias iv. 15.
16: 4 Kings xiv. 6.; 2 Paralipomenon xxv. 4.; Ezechiel xviii. 20.