Deuteronomy 19
Clarke's Commentary
Three cities of refuge to be appointed in the midst of the promised land; the land being divided into three parts, a city is to be placed in each, a proper way to which is to be prepared, Deuteronomy 19:1-3. In what cases of manslaughter the benefit of those cities may be claimed, Deuteronomy 19:4-6. Three cities more to be added should the Lord enlarge their coasts, and the reasons why, Deuteronomy 19:7-10. The intentional murderer shall have no benefit from these cities, Deuteronomy 19:11-13. The landmark is not to be shifted, Deuteronomy 19:14. One witness shall not be deemed sufficient to convict a man, Deuteronomy 19:15. How a false witness shall be dealt with - he shall bear the punishment which he designed should have been inflicted on his neighbor, Deuteronomy 19:16-20. Another command to establish the lex talionis, Deuteronomy 19:21.

When the LORD thy God hath cut off the nations, whose land the LORD thy God giveth thee, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their cities, and in their houses;
Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Thou shalt separate three cities - See on Numbers 35:11 (note), etc.

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.
Thou shalt prepare thee a way - The Jews inform us that the roads to the cities of refuge were made very broad, thirty-two cubits; and even, so that there should be no impediments in the way; and were constantly kept in good repair.

And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;
As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live:
Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.
Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee.
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;
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:
Shalt thou add three cities more - This was afterwards found necessary, and accordingly six cities were appointed, three on either side Jordan. See Joshua 21:1-3, etc. In imitation of these cities of refuge the heathens had their asyla, and the Catholics their privileged altars. See Exodus 21:13 (note), Exodus 21:14 (note), and Numbers 35:11 (note), etc.

That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee.
But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities:
If any man hate his neighbor - See on Exodus 21:13 (note).

Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.
Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee.
Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's landmark - Before the extensive use of fences, landed property was marked out by stones or posts, set up so as to ascertain the divisions of family estates. It was easy to remove one of these landmarks, and set it in a different place; and thus the dishonest man enlarged his own estate by contracting that of his neighbor. The termini or landmarks among the Romans were held very sacred, and were at last deified.

To these termini Numa Pompillus commanded offerings of broth, cakes, and firstfruits, to be made. And Ovid informs us that it was customary to sacrifice a lamb to them, and sprinkle them with its blood: -

Spargitur et caeso communis terminus agno.

Fast. lib. ii., ver. 655.

And from Tibullus it appears that they sometimes adorned them with flowers and garlands: -

Nam veneror, seu stipes habet desertus inagris,

Seu vetus in trivio florida serta lap is.

Eleg. lib. i., E. i., ver. 11.

"Revere each antique stone bedeck'd with flowers,

That bounds the field, or points the doubtful way."


It appears from Juvenal that annual oblations were made to them: -

- Convallem ruris aviti

Improbus, aut campum mihi si vicinus ademit,

Aut sacrum effodit medio de limite saxum,

Quod mea cum vetulo colult puls annua libo.

Sat. xvi., ver. 36.

"If any rogue vexatious suits advance

Against me for my known inheritance,

Enter by violence my fruitful grounds,

Or take the sacred landmark from my bounds,

Those bounds which, with procession and with prayer

And offer'd cakes, have been my annual care."


In the digests there is a vague law, de termino moto, Digestor. lib. xlvii., Titus 21, on which Calmet remarks that though the Romans had no determined punishment for those who removed the ancient landmarks; yet if slaves were found to have done it with an evil design, they were put to death; that persons of quality were sometimes exiled when found guilty; and that others were sentenced to pecuniary fines, or corporal punishment.

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.
One witness shall not rise up, etc. - See Numbers 35:30 (note).

If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;
Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
Then shall ye do unto him as he had thought to have done unto his brother - Nothing can be more equitable or proper than this, that if a man endeavor to do any injury to or take away the life of another, on detection he shall be caused to undergo the same evil which he intended for his innocent neighbor.

Some of our excellent English laws have been made on this very ground. In the 37th of Edw. III., chap. 18, it is ordained that all those who make suggestion shall incur the same pain which the other should have had, if he were attainted, in case his suggestions be found evil. A similar law was made in the 38th of the same reign, chap. 9. By a law of the twelve Tables, a false witness was thrown down the Tarpeian rock. In short, false witnesses have been execrated by all nations.

And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Life - for life, eye for eye, etc. - The operation of such a law as this must have been very salutary: if a man prized his own members, he would naturally avoid injuring those of others. It is a pity that this law were not still in force: it would certainly prevent many of those savage acts which now both disgrace and injure society. I speak this in reference to law generally, and the provision that should be made to prevent and punish ferocious and malevolent offenses. A Christian may always act on the plan of forgiving injuries; and where the public peace and safety may not be affected, he should do so; but if law did not make a provision for the safety of the community by enactment against the profligate, civil society would soon be destroyed.

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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