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This small group Deuteronomy 21 Bible study guide contains commentary, discussion questions, cross-references, and application to encourage life change. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Deuteronomy 21 Bible Study Commentary And Discussion Questions


I. Atonement for unsolved murder (1-9)
II. Protection for female captives (10-14)
III. Protection for the rights of the firstborn (15-17)
IV. Purging the evil of a rebellious son (18-21)
V. A hanged man is cursed (22-23)

I. Atonement for unsolved murder (1-9)

Discussion Questions

• What was to be done if a person was killed without witnesses in the countryside?
• What principle can we learn about punishing the innocent here?
• Is it better to punish an innocent party or not punish a guilty party?
• Why should the elders make atonement?
• What can we learn about respect for human life?
• What can we learn about corporate confession?


Genesis 1:27 – So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Hebrews 9:12 – He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:22 – Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Valuing human life – Throughout the Old Testament law, we see that human life is respected. Every human is created in the image of God. When that life is taken, even a John Doe in the middle of nowhere, it is a serious issue that cannot be ignored.

To some extent, the value a society places on human life shows its core morals. Many countries today place little value on life.

Reflect – What modern-day practices devalue human life?

• Abortion
• Euthanasia
• Slap-on-the-wrist for violent crime
• Growing embryos in test tubes

It would have been easy for them to turn a blind eye to the death of this lone person in the wilderness. It was not convenient to follow the procedure outlined. It would require the city elders to travel out into the country to follow the ritual.

But it was necessary. It was necessary not only to show respect to the deceased and their family but, even more importantly, to practice corporate confession before God.

2. Atonement had to be made – The murder revealed the sin among them. Though they didn’t know who did it, it showed there was sin in their midst. Everybody could have simply said, “It wasn’t me,” and moved on. But national sin was taken seriously.

Confession should be made corporately for the nation. Confession can and should also be made for accidental or unintentional sins of either commission or omission.

The elders were to publicly state that they were innocent of this crime and hadn’t witnessed it. They were also to ask God to accept the sacrifice and cleanse the people from the sin in their midst.

Deuteronomy 21:8 – Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.

Application – Most societies today are very individualistic. God wants us to be concerned for more than just our own lives and situations. We should intercede for the entire group that we are part of, including our nation, church, family, and community. Parents can and should ask God for mercy on behalf of their children. Church leaders should intercede for mercy for the congregation. Old Testament believers such as Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra identified themselves as part of the guilty group even when they themselves had not committed the sin in question. There is humility in that, as well as a concern for others around us that we can learn from.

3. These rules remind us of God’s holiness –

Deuteronomy 21:9 – So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord.

Violent crime is a stain on the entire culture. Each person in society has a responsibility to purge the guilt from their midst. We start with our own lives and work our way out from there.

Application – Seeing how far short our culture is should drive us to our knees.

II. Protection for female captives (10-14)


• What protections were generally offered to female captives in war at that time in history?
• What protections was Israel to offer these captives?
• What are the reasons for a one-month delay before the consummation of the marriage relationship?
• If the girl was allowed to leave, what protections did she have?
• What would have happened to girl captives if, instead of assimilating them, they left them to fend for themselves?


Deuteronomy 22:25-27 – But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. These were not Canaanite women – They were not allowed to intermarry with Canaanite women.

2. Protections for women captives –

In the ancient world, no protection was generally given to women. Their position was very low and they were often cruelly abused. Rape of prisoners of war was very common. Sadly, it is still common in the world today.

God gave specific guidelines to hold His people to a higher stand and protect these women from the worst abuses.

These women were not to be raped. They could be taken as wives. However, sex was only permitted if they were taken as a wife and treated as such. They were not to be a sex slave or object. As a wife, they had the rights of a wife under the law.

Before the marriage relationship was consummated, there was a one-month period for mourning. One month was the traditional amount of time for mourning in that culture. During this time, the woman would mourn her parents’ death or separation from them. Her feelings were therefore considered. This cool-off period could also serve to gauge her willingness to enter into this marriage relationship. In addition, the man would cool off from his initial feelings and consider if he wanted to take on the obligations of marriage toward the girl.

The man was not permitted to just take her and, in a rage of passion, use her sexually.

She should remove her captivity clothes and wear the new clothes. That would be the outward sign of her new allegiance as she was assimilated into the new nation.

After the one-month period was over, the man could decide not to move forward to marriage. Her character, behavior, and attitude would be revealed during these thirty days.

Application – Do not rush into marriage or a relationship. Time can be a great teacher. After getting married, many say, “he changed” or “she changed.” It is more likely that you didn’t know the other person very well than that he changed. Make every effort to get to know the real person before tying the knot. That is generally hard to do in the typical “go to see a movie” dating climate.

Reflect – What are some ways you can get to know the real person before committing to marriage?

If the man decided to let her go, he could not enslave her, sell her, or mistreat her in any way. The passage acknowledges that his actions had “humiliated her.” In some small amount of compensation, she was to be set free with no strings attached.

We should consider the historical context for this passage. Firstly, it elevates women far higher and gives them more rights than other societies at the time did. Secondly, we should consider the alternative. In most countries today, women can provide for themselves. Governments and police can provide protection. But at that time in history a young, single woman without family or tribe would have little or no means to provide for herself. Abject poverty and starvation would be likely. They would also be targets for abuse and exploitation. Marriage brought them under the protection of a new family unit and the husband was bound by law to take care of them.

The situation is a reminder that human nature and culture have fallen. Sin messes up everything that God designed as good. Sometimes laws only mitigate the damage and make better out of a bad situation.

Application – We are called to a higher standard than the society around us. The world these days also abuses women. Women are often seen and treated as sex objects. Some men have sex, get women pregnant, and run away, leaving them to raise the child on their own. Others say, “I love you,” to get the woman in bed, use her, and then move on. Men and women are called to purity. We should respect one another and treat each other as image bearers of God.

1 Timothy 5:2 – [Treat] younger women as sisters, in all purity.

III. Protection for the rights of the firstborn (15-17)


• Is this passage promoting polygamy? Why or why not?
• What protections are given for the firstborn?
• How does this restrict polygamy and improve family life?
• What do we learn about prejudice?
• What principles can parents glean from this passage?


Numbers 3:13 – For all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.

Exodus 13:2 – Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Rights of the firstborn – This passage is not a promotion of polygamy. Rather, it is a regulation that limits some of the worst abuses of this practice.

On the question of “Why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament?” Gotquestions gives the following answer below.

“The Bible does not specifically say why God allowed polygamy, and we must remember that allowance is not the same as approval. As we speculate about God’s permissive silence, there is at least one key factor to consider. In patriarchal societies, it was nearly impossible for an unmarried woman to provide for herself. Women were often uneducated and untrained. Women relied on their fathers, brothers, and husbands for provision and protection. Unmarried women were often subjected to prostitution and slavery.

So, God may have allowed polygamy to protect and provide for the women who otherwise may have been left destitute. A man would take multiple wives and serve as the provider and protector of all of them. While definitely not ideal, living in a polygamist household was far better than the alternative of prostitution, slavery, or starvation. In addition to the protection/provision factor, polygamy enabled a much faster expansion of humanity, fulfilling God’s command to “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth.”

Polygamy could cause serious infighting in the family, especially if the husband favored one wife over the other. Therefore the law given here prohibited the husband from giving the inheritance share of the firstborn of an unloved wife to the firstborn of a loved wife.

A husband was held to certain marital obligations. These he was required to fulfill regardless of his feelings.

Application – That is an important lesson for us today. Husband and wife ha