Monday, October 15, 2007

Deuteronomy 19:1–14

Deuteronomy 19:1–14: Cities of Refuge


In this passage, Moses talks about Cities of Refuge again. (I say “again” because he discussed Cities of Refuge back in Deuteronomy 4:41–49. But then he was just specifying particular cities, whereas here he’s giving some general rules about their use.) I’m not presenting it in the order that Moses said it to the Israelites.

When the LORD has granted the Israelites the land He is giving them, and driven out the other nations, they are to set aside three cities of refuge. They are to be centrally located, and have good roads built to them, such that the land is divided into three parts. (I think that Moses means “three parts” only in the sense that all Israelites will have one of the three cities to go to. Not that the roads are supposed to break the land up into three pieces.) If, however, God expands the Israelites’ territory, and gives them all of the land that He promised to their forefathers, then they are to create three more Cities of Refuge. Why would God say “if,” when this is based on His promise? Actually, the promise has a condition; the Israelites have to obey Him.

If the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your forefathers, and gives you the whole land he promised them, because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the LORD your God and to walk always in his ways—then you are to set aside three more cities. (verses 8–9).

Moses recaps how the Cities of Refuge are to be used (they were first described in Numbers 35):

This is the rule concerning the man who kills another and flees there to save his life—one who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities. (verses 4–7)

However, the Israelites are to be careful, too. If a man commits murder, instead of accidentally killing someone, and flees to a City of Refuge, the elders of the city are to bring the man back to face “the avenger of blood” (verse 12) to die.

The final verse of this section is all by itself; it’s not part of the description of the Cities of Refuge, and neither is it part of the next section. But rather than doing a whole post for the one verse, I’ll simply quote it:

Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess. (verse 14)


I find it interesting that Moses’ description of the Cities of Refuge is so descriptive; “for example if the axe head flies off and hits the man,” and “he would have to overtake you if you were a long way away.” I don’t have any moral lessons to take from this, I just find it interesting.

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