Corporal Punishment. - The rule respecting the corporal punishment to be inflicted upon a guilty man is introduced in Deu 25:1 with the general law, that in a dispute between two men the court was to give right to the man who was right, and to pronounce the guilty man guilty (cf. Exo 22:8 and Exo 23:7).
If the guilty man was sentenced to stripes, he was to receive his punishment in the presence of the judge, and not more than forty stripes, that he might not become contemptible in the eyes of the people. הַכֹּות בִּן, son of stripes, i.e., a man liable to stripes, like son (child) of death, in 1Sa 20:31. “According to the need of his crime in number,” i.e., as many stripes as his crime deserved.
“Forty shall ye beat him, and not add,” i.e., at most forty stripes, and not more. The strokes were administered with a stick upon the back (Pro 10:13; Pro 19:29; Pro 26:3, etc.). This was the Egyptian mode of whipping, as we may see depicted upon the monuments, when the culprits lie flat upon the ground, and being held fast by the hands and feet, receive their strokes in the presence of the judge (vid., Wilkinson, ii. p. 11, and Rosellini, ii. 3, p. 274, 78). The number forty was not to be exceeded, because a larger number of strokes with a stick would not only endanger health and life, but disgrace the man: “that thy brother do not become contemptible in thine eyes.” If he had deserved a severer punishment, he was to be executed. In Turkey the punishments inflicted are much more severe, viz., from fifty to a hundred lashes with a whip; and they are at the same time inhuman (see v. Tornauw, Moslem. Recht, p. 234). The number, forty, was probably chosen with reference to its symbolical significance, which it had derived from Gen 7:12 onwards, as the full measure of judgment. The Rabbins fixed the number at forty save one (vid., 2Co 11:24), from a scrupulous fear of transgressing the letter of the law, in case a mistake should be made in the counting; yet they felt no conscientious scruples about using a whip of twisted thongs instead of a stick (vid., tract. Macc. iii. 12; Buxtorf, Synag. Jud. pp. 522-3; and Lundius, Jüd. Heiligth. p. 472).