DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 19.
Of the Cities of Refuge and of Witnesses in Court.
REGULATIONS CONCERNING THE CITIES OF REFUGE — V.1. When the Lord, thy God, hath cut off the nations, namely, by annihilation, whose land the Lord, thy God, giveth thee, and thou succeedest them, by occupying their land as an inheritance, and dwellest in their cities and in their houses, v.2. thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee to possess it. The reference is to the land west of Jordan, for the cities in the eastern country had already been designated, chap. 4, 41. 43. The entire passage is not a mere repetition of Num. 35, 9-34, but contains directions for keeping the laws as they were established, with special reference to the future extension of the country. V.3. Thou shalt prepare thee a way, keep the roads to these cities in good condition, the passage of the rivers and creeks being an item of great importance, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, namely, with reference to the eventual central location of the cities of refuge, that every slayer may flee thither, no distinction being made here between one whose life would be preserved and one who would eventually be condemned as a murderer. V.4. And this is the case of the slayer which shall flee thither that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbor ignorantly, that is, unintentionally, whom he hated not in time past, chap. 4, 42, v.5. as when a man goeth into the wood time his neighbor to hem wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke time the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, the as-head just happens to strike the neighbor, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities and live, be in a position to preserve his life, v.6. lest the avenger of the blood, the near relative upon whom this duty devolved, pursue the slayer while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him, strike down his soul, take his life; whereas he was not worthy of death, could not rightly be condemned to death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past. For this reason it was important that a city of refuge be near at hand in every part of Israel’s dominion, and that it be accessible. Note that the people as a whole are addressed throughout the passage, for the Lord wanted to bring out the personal obligation in regard to the intended preservation of life and prevention of bloodshed in Israel. V.7. Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee, set them aside for this special purpose. V.8. And if the Lord, thy God, enlarge thy coast (boundary), as he hath Sworn unto thy fathers, Gen. 15, 18, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers, which included all the country from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates River; v.9. if thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord, thy God, and to walk ever in His ways, this being the condition that must be fulfilled before the great territory would be given to the Israelites, then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three, thus making a total of nine in the entire region occupied by the Israelites. As a matter of fact, this condition was never fulfilled by the people, and therefore the number of the cities of refuge never exceeded six. Even at the time of David and Solomon, whose power extended from the brook of Egypt and the Elanitic Gulf to the Euphrates, the children of Israel were not actually occupying all this country, many of the conquered nations being merely tributary, vassals, who retained their form of government and their national identity; v.10. that innocent blood be not shed in thy land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee. This would be the case if the unintentional slayer would not be given sufficient opportunity to save his life from the avenger of the blood, by the setting aside of the needed number of cities of refuge. V.11. But if any man hate his neighbor, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, strike down his soul, take his life, and fleeth into one of these cities, hoping to escape with his life, v.12. then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood that he may die, as it was a clear case of premeditated, malicious murder. V.13. Thine eye shall not pity him, the factor of false sentiment was to he absent entirely, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee. Cp. Ex. 21, 12-15; Num. 35, 16 ff. The mawkish sentimentality of our days which has succeeded in abolishing capital punishment for murderers in many States has no support in the Word of God.
PRECEPTS REGARDING WITNESSES — V.14. Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark, the fence or the posts which indicated the boundary of his property, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt in her it in the land that the Lord, thy God, giveth thee to possess it. Whatever the heads or chiefs, the first possessors, the fathers, Joshua and the renowned elders, determined, should be observed down to the most distant future. It is clear that this direction was given while the people were riot yet in possession of Canaan. V.15. One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, guilt, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth, for a single witness is no witness; at the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses, according to the testimony of two or three persons, shall the matter be established. This rule was to hold not only in case of one on trial for his life, chap. 17, 6, but was to find general application, Num. 35, 30; Matt. 18, 16; 2 Cor. 13, 1; 1 Tim. 5, 19. V.16. If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong, as might happen where only a single witness is available and the charge is a very grave one, literally, one of falling away from the Law of God, especially in a deliberate transgression, a crime, v.17. then both the men between whom the controversy is, the accuser and the accused, shall stand before the Lord, at the central Sanctuary, before the priests and the judges, chap. 17, 9, which shall be in those days, for these were to be regarded as the representatives of God; v.18. and the judges shall make diligent inquisition, conduct their investigation with painstaking care; and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother, spoken lies against him to harm him, perhaps even to the extent of causing him to lose his life, v.19. then ye shall do unto him as he had thought to have done unto his brother, his evil plans should be executed against himself; so shalt thou put the evil away from among you, Ex. 21, 23; Lev. 24, 20. V.20. And those which remain shall hear and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you, chap. 17, 13. V.21. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, namely, in punishing the false witness. The punishment of a false witness, even to-day, is in the hands of God: “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape,” Prov. 19, 5.