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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Deuteronomy 19

B. An exposition of selected covenant laws Chs. 12-25

Moses’ continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel that follows explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (Deuteronomy 26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:19). This is instruction preached rather than codified as comprehensive legislation.

"The specific laws in this section were given to help the people subordinate every area of their lives to the LORD, and to help them eradicate whatever might threaten that pure devotion." [Note: Deere, p. 283.]

"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship." [Note: Miller, p. 129.]

There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel’s religious life (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17) to those affecting her civil life (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 22:8) and finally to those touching personal life (Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 26:15).

Two insightful writers suggested the following outlines for these chapters. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 218-331; and Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," MAARAV 1 (1978-79):105-58.]

CommandmentMerrillKaufmanDescription
1Deuteronomy 12:1-31ch. 12Fidelity
2Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18ch. 12Worship
3Deuteronomy 14:1-21Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:27Name of God
4Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 16:17Sabbath
5Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Authority
6Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Murder
7Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:18Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:19Adultery
8Deuteronomy 23:19 to Deuteronomy 24:7Deuteronomy 23:20 to Deuteronomy 24:7Theft
9Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4False witness
10Deuteronomy 25:5-19Deuteronomy 25:5-16Coveting

". . . the entire second discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 5-26) is a single literary unit that convincingly demonstrates that the moral law informs the statutes, judgments . . . and commands of God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 129.]

In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12-26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain to the generation entering the land all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel’s imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.

The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.

Verses 1-8

6. Laws arising from the sixth commandment 19:1-22:8

The sixth commandment is, "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

Manslaughter 19:1-13

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," p. 181.]

"The extension of the power of Israel to the Euphrates under David and 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 . . ., p. 267.]

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

Witnesses 19:14-21

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, p. 137.] 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," p. 182.] 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 Way 6:7 (July-August 1983):15-16. On Deuteronomy 19:21, see Eugene J. Fisher, "Lex Talionis in the Bible and Rabbinic Tradition," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 19:3 (Summer 1982):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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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-19.html. 2012.