Chapter 19


Cities of Refuge

        • When you have driven out the nations living in the lands the Lord your God is giving you and settle into their cities and houses, you must set apart three cities of refuge to which individuals who have committed manslaughter can flee for safety. Divide this land that the Lord your God is giving you into three regions with one of these cities in each region.

          • Guzik writes, “There are two other important passages dealing with the cities of refuge: Numbers 35:9-28 and Joshua 20:7-8; a full understanding of the purpose and practice of the cities of refuge must be based on all of these passages…Moses had already established Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan as the cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan River (Deuteronomy 4:41-43); this command is to establish three more cities of refuge on the west side of the Jordan.”

        • If an individual who has accidentally killed someone (without any previously existing hostility between them), they may flee to a city of refuge to live in safety. For example, if a man and his neighbor are in the forest cutting timber, and the blade of his ax accidentally flies off of the handle, hits and kills his neighbor, this person may run to a city of refuge for safety. If the distance to a refuge city is too far, someone who is enraged and wants to avenge the death may catch up to the person who is fleeing and kill him even though he doesn’t deserve to die since he didn’t kill his neighbor out of malicious intent. This is the purpose of the cities of refuge.

        • On the “avenger,” NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The law allowed murder to be avenged by members of the victim’s family. When they found the killer, they could put him to death (Numbers 35:16-21). The idea was that blood shed by the victim must be paid for by the blood of the person responsible for the act. In this way, the land polluted by the shed blood could be purified (Numbers 35:33-34).”

        • If you obey all these commands I am giving you today and love the Lord your God, walking in His ways, then the Lord will continue to enlarge your territory giving you possession of all the land He promised to your fathers, and you will have to add three additional cities of refuge. This will prevent the shedding of innocent blood in your land so that you won’t be held responsible.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “If Israel proved faithful to the covenant, God would grant the nation even more territory, so much so that three additional cities of refuge would be needed. Sadly, this need never arose because of Israel’s disobedience to the Lord.”

        • However, if someone hides, waiting in ambush, then attacks and kills someone that they are hostile toward, then flees to one of these cities of refuge, the elders of the city the murderer lived in will send for him. He will be returned to his city and handed over to the person who will avenge the person who has been murdered, and he will be killed. Don’t have pity on the murderer. Israel must be purged of the guilt of the shedding of innocent blood so that you will be prosperous.

          • HCSB clarifies, “Under the system of blood vengeance, a family member of a person whose life was taken by another could pursue and execute the murderer. This was not the act of a vigilante, for the community had procedures by which it regulated the process…”

          • The same source also notes, “Lack of pity, in this instruction, does not mean lack of human compassion and sensitivity. The idea is that the criminal should not be allowed to evade justice because of the sympathy of the community. Painful as it may be, the punishment must fit the crime and be fully carried out.”

Boundary Markers

        • When you receive your inheritance in the land the Lord your God is giving you, you are not to move your neighbor’s boundary marker. These boundaries were established when you first received your inheritances.


        • No one can be convicted of wrongdoing or sin based on the testimony of a single witness. A fact must be established by at least two or three witnesses.

        • If a malicious witness comes forward and accuses someone of a crime, both the accuser and the accused must stand in the presence of the Lord, and appear before the priests and judges in office at that time. The judges are to investigate carefully. If it is discovered that the accuser has falsely accused his fellow Israelite, you must impose the same sentence on the accuser that would have fallen on the accused. This will purge the evil from among you. When everyone else hears about this, they will be afraid to do evil things like this. Do not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.

        • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The legal principle described as life for life is known as lex talionis (“law of retaliation”), according to which the punishment must fit the crime; it should be neither too lenient nor too severe…”

        • Guzik adds, “Our tendency is to want to do more to the offending party than what they have done to us. But we cannot punish from a motive of revenge, only from a motive of justice.”

        • Guzik also mentions how Jesus clarified this law, “In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus quoted this passage in His teaching on the true interpretation of the law. He does not say that the eye for eye principle is wrong; rather, He simply condemns the use of it to make it an obligation to exact revenge against someone who has personally offended me… Many Rabbis in Jesus’ day taught that the eye for eye law meant you were obligated to avenge yourself of a personal insult or attack brought against you. Jesus rightly disallowed the application of this law in our personal relationships; it was a law intended to guide the judges in the law courts of Israel, not to guide our personal relationships.”