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;
Verses 1-13. - Moses had before this enunciated the law concerning cities of refuge for manslayers, and had already pointed out the cities on the east of the Jordan that were to be set apart for this (Numbers 35:11, etc.; Deuteronomy 4:41, etc.), he here repeats the law with special reference to the appointment of such cities "in the midst of the land," on the west of the Jordan, in Canaan itself; and he supplements the instructions formerly given with directions as to the maintenance of roads to the cities of refuge, and as to the division of the land, so that there should be a city of refuge in every third of the land.
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 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.
Verse 3. - Thou shalt prepare thee a way. In the East, the roads were for the most part mere tracks made by the feet of animals used as beasts of burden or for traveling; and this continues to be the case in Palestine and many other parts of the East even at the present day. That roads, however, properly so called, were not unknown to the Hebrews, even in early times, is evident, not only from this passage, but also from Leviticus 26:22; Numbers 20:17; Numbers 21:22; Deuteronomy 2:27; 1 Samuel 6:12. The design of the injunction here was that every facility should be afforded to the fugitive to escape to the place of refuge. In later times, it was enacted that the roads leading to these cities should be repaired every year in the month Adar, and every obstruction removed.
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;
Verses 4-7. - (Cf. Numbers 35:11, etc.)
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;
Verses 8, 9. - In case their land should be extended, in ease they should come to possess the whole territory promised by God to the patriarchs, so that their domain should reach from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18) - an event which should be realized only if they should continue steadfast in their obedience to all that God had enjoined upon them, and an event which in point of fact never was realized, for even under David and Solomon there were extensive territories within these limits which were not incorporated with the kingdom of Israel - in that case they were to add other three cities of refuge to those already appointed.
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:
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.
Verse 10. - The design of appointing these cities was to prevent the shedding of innocent blood, which would be the case were the unintentional manslayer killed in revenge by one of the relatives of the man he had slain; in this case the guilt of bloodshed would rest upon the nation if they neglected to provide for the escape of the manslayer.
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:
Verses 11-13. - These cities, however, were not to be places of refuge for murderers, for those who from hatred and with wicked intent had slain others; if such fled to one of these cities, they were not to be suffered to remain there; the elders of their own city were to require them to be delivered up, that the avenger might put them to death (Numbers 35:16-33, etc.). In the earlier legislation, it is enacted that the congregation shall judge in such matters, and that by their decision it should be determined in any case whether the person who had slain another was to be allowed to remain in a city of refuge or be delivered over to the avenger of blood. With this the ordinance here is not inconsistent; the elders were not to act as judges, but merely as magistrates, to apprehend the man and bring him to trial.
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.
Verse 14. - To the ordinance concerning cities of refuge Moses appends one prohibiting the removing of landmarks; if these had been placed by a man's ancestors to mark the boundaries of possessions, they were not to be surreptitiously altered. Landmarks were held sacred, and a curse is pronounced against those who remove them (Deuteronomy 27:7; cf. Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10; Hosea 5:10). Among other nations also landmarks were regarded as sacred (cf. Plato, 'De Legibus,' 8. p. 842; Dionys. Halic. 2:17; Plutarch, 'Numa,' 16; Ovid, 'Fast.,' 2:639). Verse 14. - They of old time; i.e. those of a former age (רִאשֹׁנִים, earlier ones, ancestors, predecessors). The word does not necessarily imply that the age described as "former" was removed at a great distance in the past; it might designate men of the immediately preceding age. The LXX. have here οἱ πατέρες, and the Vulgate priores. That the law here given was uttered whilst Israel was yet outside of Canaan, is evident from what follows in this verse.
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.
Verses 15-21. - To secure against injury to life or property through inadequate or false attestation, it is enacted that more than one witness must appear before anything can be established; and that, should a witness be found on trial to have testified falsely against his neighbor, he was to be punished by having done to him what he thought to have done to his neighbor (cf. Deuteronomy 17:6; Numbers 35:30). Verse 15. - The rule in Deuteronomy 17:6, regarding accusations of idolatry, is here extended to accusations of every kind before a court of justice; a single witness was not to be admitted as sufficient to convict a man of any offence, either civil or criminal.
If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
Verse 16. - To testify against him that which is wrong; literally, to testify against him defection, i.e. from the Law of God. The speaker has apparently in view here all such defections from the Law as would entail punishment on the convicted offender. In Deuteronomy 13:5 , indeed, the crime described here as "that which is wrong" (margin, "falling away") is specially the crime of apostasy to idolatry; but the word (סָרָה), though usually expressing apostasy from Jehovah, has properly the general sense of a deflection from a prescribed course (from סוּר, to go off, to go aside), and so may describe any departure from what is constituted right.
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;
Verse 17. - Both the men, i.e. both parties at the bar, shall stand before the Lord; i.e. shall come to the sanctuary where Jehovah had his dwelling-place in the midst of his people, and where the supreme judges, who were his delegates and representatives, held their court (Deuteronomy 17:9).
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.
Verse 19. - Thought. The verb here used (זָמַם) means generally to meditate, to have in mind, to purpose; but it frequently has the subaudition of meditating evil (cf. Psalm 31:37; 37:12; Proverbs 30:32, etc.).
And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
Verse 20. - (Cf. Deuteronomy 13:12.)
And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.