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Deuteronomy Chapter Nineteen                           


Deuteronomy 19

Chapter Contents

The cities of refuge, The man-slayer, The murderer. (1-13) Landmarks not to be removed. (14) The punishment of false witnesses. (15-21)

Commentary on Deuteronomy 19:1-13

(Read Deuteronomy 19:1-13)

Here is the law settled between the blood of the murdered, and the blood of the murderer; provision is made, that the cities of refuge should be a protection, so that a man should not die for that as a crime, which was not his willing act. In Christ, the Lord our Righteousness, refuge is provided for those who by faith flee unto him. But there is no refuge in Jesus Christ for presumptuous sinners, who go on still in their trespasses. Those who flee to Christ from their sins, shall be safe in him, but not those who expect to be sheltered by him in their sins.

Commentary on Deuteronomy 19:14

(Read Deuteronomy 19:14)

Direction is given to fix landmarks in Canaan. It is the will of God that every one should know his own; and that means should be used to hinder the doing and suffering of wrong. This, without doubt, is a moral precept, and still binding. Let every man be content with his own lot, and be just to his neighbours in all things.

Commentary on Deuteronomy 19:15-21

(Read Deuteronomy 19:15-21)

Sentence should never be passed upon the testimony of one witness alone. A false witness should suffer the same punishment which he sought to have inflicted upon the person he accused. Nor could any law be more just. Let all Christians not only be cautious in bearing witness in public, but be careful not to join in private slanders; and let all whose consciences accuse them of crime, without delay flee for refuge to the hope set before them in Jesus Christ.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Deuteronomy


Deuteronomy 19

Verse 2

[2] Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.

In the midst of the land — Namely, beyond Jordan, as there were three already appointed on this side Jordan: In the midst of the several parts of their land, to which they might speedily flee from all the parts of the land.

Verse 3

[3] Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither.

Prepare thee a way — Distinguish it by evident marks, and make it plain and convenient, to prevent mistakes and delays.

Verse 8

[8] And if the LORD thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers;

Enlarge thy coast — As far as Euphrates.

Verse 9

[9] If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:

If thou shalt keep all these commandments — But the Jewish writers themselves own, that the condition not being performed, the promise of enlarging their coast was not fulfilled, so that there was no need for three more cities of refuge. Yet the holy, blessed God, say they, did not command it in vain, for in the day's of Messiah the Prince, they shall be added. They expect it in the letter: but we know, it has in Christ its spiritual accomplishment. For the borders of the Gospel - Israel are inlarged according to the promise: and in the Lord our righteousness, refuge is provided for all that by faith fly to him.

Verse 15

[15] One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

Rise — Or be established, accepted, owned as sufficient: it is the same word which in the end of the verse is rendered, be established.

Verse 16

[16] If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;

A safe witness — A single witness, though he speak truth, is not to be accepted for the condemnation of another man, but if he be convicted of false witness, this is sufficient for his own condemnation.

Verse 21

[21] And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Eye for eye — What punishment the law allotted to the accused, if he had been convicted, the same shall the false accuser bear.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Deuteronomy


19 Chapter 19


Verses 1-13

Deuteronomy 19:1-13

That every slayer may flee thither.

Cities of refuge

I. There are many, besides the murderer of Uriah, who have need to cry with him, “deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God.”

1. And, first, since a preacher must address his own conscience, as well as those of the hearers, I cannot forget the fearful applicability which this charge of blood guiltiness may have to Christian ministers. If ministers neglect to warn the wicked, if they keep back from the people any part of the counsel of God, either doctrinal or practical, and do not declare it; if they omit in their teaching either “repentance towards God,” which is the beginning of the Gospel, or “faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” which is the body and substance of it--blood lieth at their door, the angel of Divine vengeance is abroad in pursuit of them: blood for blood, life for life, this is His legal requirement; His eye shall not pity, neither shall it spare; the manslayer’s life--not the life of his body, but the life of the soul--is justly forfeit, unless, indeed, there be, under the economy of grace, some spiritual city of refuge appointed for him, into which he may flee and be safe.

2. Consider, then, I pray you, that subtle, undefinable thing, conveyed in a single remark, or in a single glance, or even sometimes in a single gesture, called influence. Consider how it propagates itself, and runs along like beacon fires--how alarmingly contagious and infectious its nature is.

3. But the influence which all people professing religion exercise on society at large, and claim to exercise, is too important to go without some remark.

II. The sinner’s spiritual refuge, I need not tell you, is Jesus Christ, who represents also the merciful elders and the anointed high priest; and the road by which we flee to Christ spiritually is the road of faith.

1. First, he must fly to Christ, as if for his life, as a man flies from a falling house or a beleaguered town--as righteous Lot was directed to flee from the cities of the plain.

2. As impediments were removed out of the manslayer’s way, and the road was made as easy and obvious to him as possible, so it is a very simple thing to believe in Christ, and thus to flee to our spiritual City of Refuge--so much so, that its extreme simplicity sometimes puzzles us, and makes us look with distrust upon faith, as if so very obvious a thing could not be the appointed way of coming to God.

3. When the merciful Elder, Jesus Christ, comes to the gate of the city of refuge, what have we to plead with Him? We have nothing to plead but our own sin and misery, and the Divine covenant which was ratified by His blood--the Divine assurance that He is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him. We must insist upon our right to receive a “strong consolation” for our troubled conscience, even because we have in God’s appointed way “Cried for a refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us” in Him. And surely the merciful Elder will receive and comfort us, and give us a place that we may dwell with Him.

4. Again, the manslayer was to abide in the city of his refuge--and so must we abide in ours, if we would be safe. The justice of God may arrest us the moment we are out of Christ.

III. Such, then, are some of the points of analogy between the Jewish city of refuge and its New Testament Antitype. There are two points of glorious contrast.

1. The city of refuge was permanently available only to such manslayers as had acted without any evil intent. Not so our City of Refuge! Christ is able to save to the uttermost.

2. The manslayer was to remain in the city until the high priest died. But our High Priest never dies. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.”

IV. Do we wish to know whether we are abiding in this City of Refuge, under the wing of the merciful Elder, under the auspices of the Great High Priest? There is only one safe test of this, and it is very easily applied. “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked”; and again, “Whosoever abideth in Him, sinneth not”; and again, “He that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him.” As the evidence of our being in Christ at all is our bearing fruit, so the evidence of our abiding in Him is our bearing much fruit; “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” And the fruit is this: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against which there is no law.” (Dean Goulburn.)

Deliver him into the hand of the avenger.

No refuge for a man hater

The universe was not constituted to give security to murderers: there is no shelter for a man hater. He may get into a city of refuge, but he is to be dragged out of it: the evil-doer may make a profession of religion, but his cloak, though of velvet and gold braided, must be torn from his shoulders. The universe has no lodgment for the man of malicious heart and murderous spirit; the city of refuge in Israel was not built for him; he has no right in it; to pity him is to despise the law; to pity the murderer is to forget the murdered. The eyes of justice are fixed upon both points in the case. It is an evil sentiment that spares the wrong-doer and forgets the wrong-endurer, the sufferer of wrong. There is one place appointed for the murderer. Who is the murderer? Not the shedder of blood:--whoso hateth his brother without a cause is a murderer. This is the great law, not of Israel only, but of the Church of Christ in all ages. Beware of malice! It does not always begin in its broadest form, or leap at once in all its intensity into human action: it begins in little frets and spites and jealousies; it starts out of a root of criticism, of fault finding, and investigations into consistency; it may begin as a clever action, showing the spirit of judgment, and proving itself to be equal to the analysis of the most hidden motive; but it grows; disappointed, it begins to justify itself; foiled in its attempts to succeed, it retires that it may increase the supposed evidence that is at command; then it returns to the onslaught; it grows by what it feeds on; at last, philanthropy--love of man--dies, and misanthropy--hatred of man--takes its place. Then is the soul a murderer; and, thank God, there is no city of refuge for the murderer of life, of hope, of love, of trust!--open the door and thrust ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness!--the sun will not spare a beam to bless the murderer. Christ is not a refuge in the sense of a criminal being able to outrun justice. The picture in Israel was the picture of a man fleeing for refuge and an avenger fleeing after him; and if the avenger were swifter of foot, the man slayer might be killed outside the city. There is no such picture in Christianity. In Christ we do not outrun justice: justice itself, by a mystery we can neither understand nor explain, has been satisfied by Christ. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 14

Deuteronomy 19:14

Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark.

Ancient landmarks removed

Stones indicating boundaries might easily be removed. Ditches could be secretly levelled. This would materially affect property, and be a great evil in land where territory was distributed by lot. Removal would be--

I. To disregard ancient custom. “They of old have set,” with care and justice. “Custom is held as law.” Fixed law and fixed boundaries should he respected. But many scorn ancient landmarks as relics of bygone days. Impatient of restraint, they seek wider range of thought and action, indulge in novelties, and cry, Down with temples, and away with creeds and the Bible!

II. To violate the law of God. Heathen nations held every landmark as sacred. God, as the proprietor of all the earth, set bounds for Israel, allotted their lands which they held in trust, and bound them in terms imposed by His will (Deuteronomy 27:17). Hence removal of landmarks is violation of His command, and direct insult to His authority.

III. To defraud our neighbour. Landmarks were witnesses of the rights of each man. Removal was selfish and unjust invasion of property. To enlarge your own estate at the expense of your neighbour’s is theft. Each one should know his own, and not defraud another by concealment, forgery, or robbery. “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him” (Leviticus 19:13; Mark 10:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:6).

IV. To expose to a dreadful curse. The execration of men is something, but who can bear the curse of God? The field of the fatherless is under Almighty protection. The poor may seem helpless, but special warning is given against their oppression. “Remove not the old landmark, and enter not into the fields of the fatherless” (by acts of violence or removal of boundaries), “for their Redeemer is mighty to vindicate outraged innocence” (Proverbs 23:10-11). This in after times was the great affront of national provocation (Hosea 5:10). (J. Wolfendale.)

──The Biblical Illustrator