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Three cities of refuge are to be appointed; the intentional murderer is to be put to death, though he flee into one of these cities: the punishment of the false witness.
Before Christ 1451.
Ver. 1. When the Lord thy God, &c.— Moses, having pressed upon the people the great commandment of loving God with all the heart, now proceeds to remind them of other precepts belonging to the second table, though not in an exact manner, nor without interspersing some ceremonial matters. He begins with what concerns that principal part of our neighbour's property, his life.
Ver. 2. In the midst of thy land— Rather, within thy land, as appears from the next verse. The land was to be divided into three parts; and a city of refuge to be set apart in each, in the most convenient place for those to flee to, who should be so unhappy as to stand in need of an asylum.
Ver. 3. Thou shalt prepare thee a way, &c.— The Jewish rulers added a number of other laws for keeping those roads in continual repair, that the person might meet with no obstruction in his flight. These roads, according to them, were to be thirty-two cubits in breadth, smooth and plain. At every place where the road parted, a post was to be set up to direct him, which had the word מקלט miklat, REFUGE, engraven upon it. Every brook or river was to have a good bridge; all watery places were to be drained, and the surface kept smooth and hard. Once a year, at least, in the month of Adar, which answers in part to our February, the magistrates of every city were obliged to visit them, and see that they were kept in good order; otherwise, in case the avenger chanced to overtake and kill the slayer, the magistracy of the place were adjudged guilty of his death. As for the cities of refuge, they were to be of a moderate size, well furnished with water, provisions, and artists. For more respecting the cities of refuge, we refer the reader to the notes on Numbers 35:12-24.
REFLECTIONS.—(1.) These cities are representative of Christ: the sinner fleeth to him, and is safe. (2.) Ministers are the directories, to teach the way, and assist such as desire to flee from the wrath to come. (3.) The way is plain, and the city near, for every awakened soul which truly flies for refuge. If any sinner perishes, his blood is on his own head, because he neglects so great a salvation.
Ver. 16. To testify against him that which is wrong— That is, to accuse him, to lay any crime to his charge. Houbigant tenders it very properly, ut eum criminis accusat: that he may accuse him of a crime: and as the detection of a false witness was extremely difficult, the most diligent and exact inquiry was to be made by the priests and judges, ver. 17, 18. Some of the most excellent of our English laws are grounded upon this law; as that of the thirty-seventh of Edward III. chap. 18 which ordains, that "all they who make suggestion, shall be sent with the same suggestion before the chancellor, treasurer, &c. and his grand counsel; and that they there find surety to pursue their suggestions; and incur the same pain which the other should have had, if he were attainted, in case that his suggestions be found evil," &c. And in the thirty-eighth of the same reign, chap. 9 it is enacted, "That if he that maketh complaint, cannot prove his intent against the defendant, in the same article, he shall be commanded to prison, there to abide till he hath made gree to the party of his damages, and of the slander that he hath suffered upon such occasion, and after shall make fine and ransom to the king."
Ver. 19. Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother— This law is exemplified in the story of Susannah and the elders; for the two elders, being convicted by Daniel of giving false accusation against Susannah, are condemned to undergo the same punishment which they intended against her; ver. 62. According to the law of Moses, they did unto them in such sort as they maliciously intended to do to their neighbour; and they put them to death. By the law of the twelve tables, false witnesses were to be thrown down the Tarpeian rock. See Aul. Gellius, lib. 20: cap. 1. The laws at Athens, though severe, were rather more mild. See Sam. Petit, de Leg. Art. lib. 4: tit. 7.
Ver. 20. And those which remain, shall hear, and fear, &c.— See chap. Deuteronomy 17:3. This is the grand end of all the Mosaic penal laws, and indeed of all such, enacted by wise legislators. See Grot. de Jur. B. and P. lib. 2: cap. 20. This law proves the authority which judges and magistrates have to make use of witnesses, and to examine them upon oath, in order to discover the truth, which those who are summoned as witnesses are obliged to declare: that those who are found to be false witnesses deserve the most exemplary punishment; and that, if they escape punishment from men, God will take vengeance of their perfidiousness and impiety.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 19". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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