When there’s a mystery murder
- 1 Here’s what you do if you find the body of a person obviously murdered and left in the open, but you don’t know who the killer was.
- 2 Take the city officials and leaders of nearby towns to see how close the corpse is to their towns.1
- 3 Leaders in the town closest the corpse will get a heifer that has never worn a yoke to pull a plow or do any other kind of work.
- 4 They’ll take the heifer to an unplowed spot of land in a valley beside a stream. There, they’ll kill the cow by breaking its neck.
- 5 Priests from Levi’s tribe will step forward because God chose the Levites as Israel’s worship leaders. They have the authority to bless people in God’s name. And they have the authority to decide any legal case and every assault.
- 6 Leaders in the town closest the corpse will wash their hands over the cow that’s lying dead with a broken neck.
- 7 Then they’ll say, “We have no blood on our hands. We didn’t kill this person. And we didn’t see who did.
- 8 So, please forgive your Israelite people for what happened here. LORD, you saved these people. Don’t hold them responsible for the innocent blood of this person lying dead in their land. Forgive the people, and don’t find them guilty of this murder.”
- 9 This is the right way to cleanse your town from the guilt of a murder like this.
When captives become wives
- 10 Let’s say you go to war and fight a battle that the LORD your God helps you win.
- 11 And when they round up all the captives, a beautiful woman catches your eye, and you want to marry her.2
- 12 Here’s what you do. Take her home with you. But don’t have sex with her right away. Instead, have her shave her head and trim her nails.3
- 13 Also, have her change her clothes to the style your women wear. Keep her at your home for a month and let her cry and grieve for her father and mother. After that, you can take her as your wife and have sex with her.
- 14 If it turns out you’re not happy with her, divorce her and let her go wherever she wants. You’re not allowed to sell her as a slave. You’ve humiliated her enough.
First son inherits double share
- 15 Let’s say you marry two women. And you discover that you love one wife, and you don’t love the other. Yet, they both give you sons. And let’s say the wife you don’t love gives you your first son.
- 16 What are you going to do about the family inheritance? Well, you can’t treat your second son like he’s your first, simply because you love his mom. Don’t do that to your first son, simply because you don’t love his mom.
- 17 You need to embrace the fact that your oldest son came from the wife you don’t love. And you need to give him the share of your estate that’s customary for the oldest—twice as much as any other son. This first son4 is the one who proved the father could produce a son.
Stoning: Cure for chronic misbehaving
- 18 Let’s say you have a son who refuses to obey you, his parents. You discipline him, but it doesn’t change his stubborn and angry behavior.
- 19 There comes a time when you need to scoop him up and take him by force to the city leaders. Go to where they hold their meetings at the city gate of your hometown.
- 20 Tell the city leaders, “This kid is nothing but defiant and hostile toward us. He absolutely will not follow orders. He just hangs around eating all the time and drinking too much.”
- 21 Men in the city will stone the young man to death. That’s how you eliminate this toxic brand of evil, to keep it from spreading. News of this execution will remind all of Israel to respect the law.5
Executed on a tree
- 22 Let’s say you execute someone who committed a crime that requires execution. And let’s say you hang6 the person’s body on a post or a tree.7
- 23 Don’t leave the body hanging overnight. Bury it the day of the execution. This person is hanging there because God condemned the person’s behavior. Don’t allow this corpse to desecrate the good land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Perhaps to decide which town has jurisdiction in the case and will conduct the investigation.
This doesn’t seem to refer to local Canaanite women, but to women in neighboring nations outside the tribal boundaries of Israel (20:10-15). Moses ordered Israelites to kill all the locals they caught, including all the good-looking women (20:16-18).
There’s no explanation for why women had to shave their heads and trim their nails. Perhaps it was part of the mourning custom or to graphically signify that everything in the woman’s life is about to change, from the hair on her head to the clothes she wears. As for trimming the nails, there might be some mysterious spiritual or ceremonial reason for this. But from a practical point of view, you wouldn’t want long nails on a woman you intended on sleeping with 30 days after you killed her family.
This was a custom throughout what is now the Middle East. It shows up in ancient law codes. Some say the reason may have been because the oldest son was expected to become head of the extended family after the father died. And the extra assets helped him cover the cost of that job. Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that the lawmaker would have been the second, third, fourth, or fifth son in a family of five sons. What’s odd about the law is that when it’s first mentioned in the Bible, in the story of Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 17:15-22; 21:8-14) and then again with Esau and Jacob (Genesis 27; 48), the first son doesn’t get the double share. Ishmael and his mother got run off. And Jacob traded Esau a bowl of red soup for Esau’s inheritance rights. So there seems to have been wiggle room in the ancient custom, though Jews may have followed the custom more faithfully since it was added to their laws.
The Hebrew word for “hang” is tala. It can mean to impale, hang, or expose.
The Hebrew word is es. It can refer to many kinds of wood: tree, pole, beam, or branches. Hanging a body like this was usually intended to send a warning to others not to make the same mistake this person did. Paul said Jesus became cured when he hung on the cross (Galatians 3:13).