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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Deuteronomy 19



Verses 1-8

6. Laws arising from the sixth commandment19:1-22:8

The sixth commandment Isaiah , "You shall not murder" ( Deuteronomy 5:17). The representative laws in this chapter all protected people who were vulnerable for one reason or another. Civil law is in view.

Verses 1-13


God revealed the law concerning how the Israelites were to deal with manslayers earlier (cf. Numbers 35:9-34). In Israel this kind of crime was a domestic rather than a law court matter; families were to deal with it rather than the courts. The instructions given here urge application of this law and explain the need for three more cities of refuge west of the Jordan River. Moses had already designated three towns on the east side of the Jordan ( Deuteronomy 4:41-43). The provision of cities of refuge taught the Israelites how important life is to God. The cities of refuge were conceptually extensions of the altar in the tabernacle courtyard as places of asylum. [Note: Kline, " Deuteronomy ," p181.]

"The extension of the power of Israel to the Euphrates under David and Song of Solomon , did not bring the land as far as this river into their actual possession, since the conquered kingdoms of Aram were still inhabited by the Aramaeans, who, though conquered, were only rendered tributary. And the Tyrians and Phoenicians, who belonged to the Canaanitish population, were not even attacked by David." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:398. Cf. Craigie, The Book . . ., p267.]

There is no indication in the Bible that the Israelites ever set aside this third set of three cities of refuge ( Deuteronomy 19:8-9). If they did not, it may have been because they never secured the full extent of the Promised Land.

Verses 14-21


The previous pericope alluded to the need for witnesses, and this one explains their role. A common cause of hostility between individuals that sometimes led to homicide was a failure to agree on common boundaries and to respect property rights (cf. 1 Kings 21:1-26; 1 Kings 22:37-38). [Note: Kaufman, p137.] In the ancient world boundary markers protected the property rights of individuals ( Deuteronomy 19:14). Many nations as well as Israel regarded them as sacred. Stones several feet high marked the boundaries of royal grants. [Note: Kline, " Deuteronomy ," p182.] The Romans later executed people who moved boundary markers. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:399.] Tribal boundaries were particularly significant in the Promised Land because Yahweh, the owner of the land, determined them.

In Israel judges assumed a person was innocent until proven guilty. Deuteronomy 19:15-21 explain what they were to do if they suspected some witness of giving false testimony. Normally at least two witnesses were necessary ( Deuteronomy 17:6), but sometimes there was only one. In such a case the trial moved to the supreme court at the tabernacle ( Deuteronomy 19:17; cf. Deuteronomy 17:8-13). False witnesses received the punishment they sought to bring on the persons they falsely accused ( Deuteronomy 19:19; Deuteronomy 19:21). [Note: See Chris Wright, "Principles of Punishment in Deuteronomy ," Third Way6:7 (July-August1983):15-16. On Deuteronomy 19:21, see Eugene J. Fisher, "Lex Talionis in the Bible and Rabbinic Tradition," Journal of Ecumenical Studies19:3 (Summer1982):582-87.] God here extended to all criminals the safeguards formerly guaranteed to capital offenders. Jesus did not deny the validity of this principle for the courtroom, but He forbade its application in interpersonal relationships ( Matthew 5:38-42).

God"s concern for His people"s lives, possessions, and reputations stands out in this chapter.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 19:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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