World Wide Study Bible
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19. Cities of Refuge
1`When Jehovah thy God doth cut off the nations, whose land Jehovah thy God is giving to thee, and thou hast succeeded them, and dwelt in their cities, and in their houses, 2three cities thou dost separate for thee in the midst of thy land which Jehovah thy God is giving to thee to possess it. 3Thou dost prepare for thee the way, and hast divided into three parts the border of thy land which Jehovah thy God doth cause thee to inherit, and it hath been for the fleeing thither of every man-slayer. 4`And this [is] the matter of the man-slayer who fleeth thither, and hath lived: He who smiteth his neighbour unknowingly, and is not hating him heretofore, 5even he who cometh in with his neighbour into a forest to hew wood, and his hand hath driven with an axe to cut the tree, and the iron hath slipped from the wood, and hath met his neighbour, and he hath died -- he doth flee unto one of these cities, and hath lived, 6lest the redeemer of blood pursue after the man-slayer when his heart is hot, and hath overtaken him (because the way is great), and hath smitten him -- the life, and he hath no sentence of death, for he is not hating him heretofore; 7therefore I am commanding thee, saying, Three cities thou dost separate to thee. 8`And if Jehovah thy God doth enlarge thy border, as He hath sworn to thy fathers, and hath given to thee all the land which He hath spoken to give to thy fathers -- 9when thou keepest all this command to do it, which I am commanding thee to-day, to love Jehovah thy God, and to walk in His ways all the days -- then thou hast added to thee yet three cities to these three; 10and innocent blood is not shed in the midst of thy land which Jehovah thy God is giving to thee -- an inheritance, and there hath been upon thee blood. 11`And when a man is hating his neighbour, and hath lain in wait for him, and risen against him, and smitten him -- the life, and he hath died, and he hath fled unto one of these cities, 12then the elders of his city have sent and taken him from thence, and given him into the hand of the redeemer of blood, and he hath died; 13thine eye hath no pity on him, and thou hast put away the innocent blood from Israel, and it is well with thee. 14`Thou dost not remove a border of thy neighbour, which they of former times have made, in thine inheritance, which thou dost inherit in the land which Jehovah thy God is giving to thee to possess it. 15`One witness doth not rise against a man for any iniquity, and for any sin, in any sin which he sinneth; by the mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, is a thing established. 16`When a violent witness doth rise against a man, to testify against him apostacy, 17then have both the men who have the strife stood before Jehovah, before the priests and the judges who are in those days, 18and the judges have searched diligently, and lo, the witness [is] a false witness, a falsehood he hath testified against his brother: 19`Then ye have done to him as he devised to do to his brother, and thou hast put away the evil thing out of thy midst, 20and those who are left do hear and fear, and add not to do any more according to this evil thing in thy midst; 21and thine eye doth not pity -- life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
De 19:1-13. Of the Cities of Refuge.
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 conquered.
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 of De 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 (De 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 Hebrew kings.
De 19:14. 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.
De 19:15. 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 False Witness.
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).