De 19:1-13. Of the Cities
2. Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in
the midst of thy land—Goelism, or the duty of the nearest
kinsmen to avenge the death of a slaughtered relative, being the
customary law of that age (as it still is among the Arabs and other
people of the East), Moses incorporated it in an improved form with his
legislative code. For the protection of the unintentional homicide, he
provided certain cities of refuge—three had been destined for
this purpose on the east of Jordan (De 4:41; Nu 35:11); three were to be invested with the
same privilege on the west of that river when Canaan should be
in the midst of thy land—in such a
position that they would be conspicuous and accessible, and equidistant
from the extremities of the land and from each other.
3. Thou shalt prepare thee a way—The
roads leading to them were to be kept in good condition and the brooks
or rivers to be spanned by good bridges; the width of the roads was to
be thirty-two cubits; and at all the crossroads signposts were to be
erected with the words, Mekeleth, Mekeleth, "refuge, refuge,"
painted on them.
divide the coasts of thy land … into three
parts—the whole extent of the country from the south to the
north. The three cities on each side of Jordan were opposite to each
other, "as two rows of vines in a vineyard" (see on Jos 20:7).
6, 7. Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the
slayer, while his heart is hot—This verse is a continuation
19:3 (for De 19:4, 5, which are explanatory, are in a
parenthetical form), and the meaning is that if the kinsman of a person
inadvertently killed should, under the impulse of sudden excitement and
without inquiring into the circumstances, inflict summary vengeance on
the homicide, however guiltless, the law tolerated such an act; it was
to pass with impunity. But to prevent such precipitate measures, the
cities of refuge were established for the reception of the homicide,
that "innocent blood might not be shed in thy land" (De 19:10). In the case of premeditated murder
19:11, 12), they afforded no
immunity; but, if it were only manslaughter, the moment the fugitive
was within the gates, he found himself in a safe asylum (Nu
35:26-28; Jos 20:6).
8, 9. And if the Lord thy God enlarge thy
coast—Three additional sanctuaries were to be established in
the event of their territory extending over the country from Hermon and
Gilead to the Euphrates (see Ge 15:18; Ex 23:31). But it was obscurely hinted that this
last provision would never be carried into effect, as the Israelites
would not fulfil the conditions, namely, "that of keeping the
commandments, to love the Lord, and walk ever in his ways." In point of
fact, although that region was brought into subjection by David and
Solomon, we do not find that cities of refuge were established; because
those sovereigns only made the ancient inhabitants tributary, instead
of sending a colony of Israelites to possess it. The privilege of
sanctuary cities, however, was given only for Israelites; and besides,
that conquered territory did not remain long under the power of the
The Landmark Is Not to Be Removed.
14. Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's
landmark, which they of old have set in thine inheritance—The
state of Palestine in regard to enclosures is very much the same now as
it has always been. Though gardens and vineyards are surrounded by
dry-stone walls or hedges of prickly pear, the boundaries of arable
fields are marked by nothing but by a little trench, a small cairn, or
a single erect stone, placed at certain intervals. It is manifest that
a dishonest person could easily fill the gutter with earth, or remove
these stones a few feet without much risk of detection and so enlarge
his own field by a stealthy encroachment on his neighbor's. This law,
then, was made to prevent such trespasses.
Two Witnesses Required.
15. One witness shall not rise up against a man
for any iniquity—The following rules to regulate the
admission of testimony in public courts are founded on the principles
of natural justice. A single witness shall not be admitted to the
condemnation of an accused person.
De 19:16-21. Punishment of a
16-21. But if convicted of perjury, it will be
sufficient for his own condemnation, and his punishment shall be
exactly the same as would have overtaken the object of his malignant
prosecution. (See on Ex 21:23; see also Le 24:20).