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REGULATIONS IN REFERENCE TO CITIES OF REFUGE, Deuteronomy 19:1-13.
Comp. Exodus 21:13, and Numbers 35:9-34; Deuteronomy 4:41. Six cities were to be designated. Moses had already named the three east of the Jordan. Deuteronomy 4:41-43. The three that were for the west were Kadesh in the north, Shechem in the centre, and Hebron in the south. In Joshua 20:7, the names of the cities, both on the east and the west of the Jordan, are given.
3. Thou shalt prepare thee a way The sentence might read, prepare the road. This was understood to be a direction to have the roads leading to the cities of refuge kept in order. The hills were to be levelled; the streams were to be bridged; the road was to be thirty-two cubits broad.
8-10. Then shalt thou add Here are directions for three additional cities of refuge in case the boundaries of the nation, should be in the future extended.
11-13. But if any man hate The appointment of cities of refuge was a merciful provision for the security of those who unintentionally should shed blood. The usage in the time of Moses evidently was the carrying out rigorously the law of retaliation. But if life had been taken without malice this provision for cities of refuge afforded a place of escape from the avenger of blood. But they were not to be places of refuge for murderers. They were not to protect those who had slain their fellow-men through hatred or for gain. Such guilty ones were to be taken from the cities by the magistrates and given up to the avenger of blood. Human life was sacred among the Hebrews. We see how carefully it was protected, how stringent was the legislation. Moses made provision for the protection of property also.
14. Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark Among the Romans boundaries were placed under the protection of a special deity Terminus; and the severest penalty was visited upon the one who removed a landmark defining property. So among the Assyrians there were evidently the most stringent provisions for the security of landed rights. On a stone found on the western side of the Tigris, which George Smith thought was of the date 1340 B.C., is an inscription of a grant of land made by Merodach-Baladan to one of his officers. On the back of the stone is a rudely carved picture of the deities invoked to protect the property, and to punish any who should remove the boundary-stone. The inscription closes with curses upon any who should injure or remove the stone. See Records of the Past, vol. ix, p. 29. Compare also Deuteronomy 27:17, where among the curses to be pronounced on Mount Ebal is one against him who removeth his neighbour’s landmark. Comp. also Hosea 5:10; Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10.
They of old time This is not a suitable translation of the Hebrew word. The Vulgate has priores. Schroeder renders it predecessors. We prefer to consider it as explained by Joshua 14:1, where we learn that Eleazar the priest and Joshua and the heads of the tribes distributed the land on the west of Jordan. We understand the term rendered they of old time in our version to mean the heads of the tribes, who, after the general division of the land to the tribes, subdivided each tribal division to the several families. The expression, then, by no means implies that the land had been long occupied by the Israelites.
15. At the mouth of three witnesses In Deuteronomy 17:6, the rule had been laid down that in capital offences the decision should not be made on the testimony of a single witness. The same rule is here extended so as to apply to all cases that come before the courts.
16. A false witness The general treatment of the subject of bearing false witness is found in the earlier legislation. See Exodus xxiii, 1-3; Leviticus 19:15-18. But no penalties are assigned to particular cases. Here Moses allows the lex talionis the law of retaliation to be applied to those who through malice endeavour to wrong the innocent.
To testify… that which is wrong The Hebrew word which is here rendered wrong is sometimes used with the significance of apostasy. It is here used in a more extended sense for any violation of law. We might translate the expression to testify against his departure that is, from the law of Jehovah.
17. The men, between whom the controversy is The original parties in the case, one of whom is supposed to have brought into court the false witness. But Keil thinks the accused and the false witness are the men referred to in this clause.
Before the Lord,… priests… judges At the place appointed by Jehovah for the sanctuary, before the highest court, this judicial investigation was to be made. The crime of bearing false witness was of such grave moment that it was to be treated with the greatest solemnity.
19. Do unto him, as he had thought to have done The convicted perjurer was to suffer the identical punishment that would have been inflicted upon the one against whom he falsely testified, had he been proven guilty. Comp. Proverbs 19:5; Proverbs 19:9; Daniel 6:24.
21. Thine eye shall not pity It has been said that this is a harsh and cruel requirement. But it must be borne in mind that the usages which prevailed and the condition of society demanded stringent laws. The wise legislator adapts law to the circumstances of the people. Moses found the law of retaliation deeply seated. It has its foundations in the conception of impartial justice. With all his influence over the people he could not eradicate long-established usages. At the present day in the East there is a most cruel feature of the lex talionis. When the murderer cannot be reached the avengers have the right to kill any member of his family. See THOMSON’S Land and Book, vol. i, p. 448. If we turn to the words of Him who spake as never man spake, we see how the Gospel modifies the stern exactions of this law of retaliation. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil.” Matthew 5:38-39.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 19". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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