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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 19

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-20

Laws Concerning the Handling of Criminal Cases (19:1-20

In this section three criminal matters are dealt with: homicide (unpremeditated and premeditated), stealing of land, and the method of establishing guilt.

Civilized societies regularly recognize the difference between premeditated and unpremeditated homicide and adjust the penalty accordingly. In ancient Israel, where the system of blood revenge prevailed as a deterrent to premeditated homicide (that is, where the next of kin was obliged to shed the blood of the person guilty of murder), some provision had to be made to protect a man-slayer until the nature of his motive could be determined. This provision was the establishment of cities of refuge. Deuteronomy authorizes three in Transjordan (4:41-43), three in the land west of the Jordan (19:1-3), and three more if Israel’s territory is enlarged (19:8-9). If investigation by the elders of the city leads to the conclusion that the homicide was unpremeditated, blood vengeance will not be allowed; but in the contrary circumstance, the murderer will be taken from the city of refuge and turned over to the next of kin for "eye for eye," "tooth for tooth," and "hand for hand" treatment (19:21).

The moving of boundary markers, which consisted of a stone or a pile of stones, was relatively easy and apparently often done (Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10; Hosea 5:10). The sanctity of inherited property was jealously guarded in Israel (see Leviticus 25:23-34; 1 Kings 21).

The administration of justice is to a large degree dependent on reliable testimony. Hebrew law attempted to guard against conviction on insufficient evidence by requiring two or three witnesses (19:15) and against perjured testimony by "eye for eye" punishment (19:16-19, 21). The supreme court at the central sanctuary (see 17:8-13) undertook to examine the credibility of witnesses on appeal. If perjury was established, the false witness was saddled with the penalty he sought to fix on the innocent. "Eye for eye" justice, while not in good repute among most Christians, was in actuality an attempt to limit vengeance to equitable proportions; otherwise a second injustice would be added to the first.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Deuteronomy 19". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/deuteronomy-19.html.
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