Book of Deuteronomy Chapter Nineteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-3: "When the Lord your God cuts off the nations, whose land the Lord your God gives you, and you dispossess them and settle in their cities and in their houses, 2 you shall set aside three cities for yourself in the midst of your land, which the Lord your God gives you to possess. 3 You shall prepare the roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the Lord your God will give you as a possession, so that any manslayer may flee there." Your nation, your city is supposed to be a sanctuary that protects its citizens, but all too often it is not. Your family is intended as a zone of safety where you don't have to pretend you're something you aren't, but for so many, families are not that way. The three cities of these verses, to be located in Canaan, remind us that we can find safety in Christ who died for us. Through Him we have the Father and are given the Holy Spirit. God Himself is our Sanctuary, our Person of safety. A road to sanctuary has been provided in Christ, leading to forgiveness and protection. We are all "manslayer(s)" in thought, word, and/or deed, but we can flee to our Lord in faith and find eternal safety in Him.
Verses 4-6: "Now this is the case of the manslayer who may flee there and live: when he kills his friend unintentionally, not hating him previously— 5 as when a man goes into the forest with his friend to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down the tree, and the iron head slips off the handle and strikes his friend so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live; 6 otherwise the avenger of blood might pursue the manslayer in the heat of his anger, and overtake him, because the way is long, and take his life, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated him previously." I remember as a young man in the military, traveling across an ocean in a slow DC3 airplane. The double doors were open and I was comfortably sprawled on several parachutes. I did not know why the doors were open, but I was enjoying the view. If the pilot suddenly swerved to avoid a flock of birds, would it have been his fault if I was flung out through the doors and killed? He might have been reprimanded but it's unlikely that criminal charges would have been filed. He did not hate me and had no intent to bring harm. It would have been an accident. Note that it is quite different for those who seek refuge in Christ. God sees us as we really are—each resentment, every bit of gossip, all unkind thoughts. We come to Him as guilty people, confessing our sin. The finding of guilty as charged is duly entered but the sentence was already carried out—on Someone else! "Death" is the verdict, but Jesus died, paying the price for you and me (Romans 6:23). Through faith in the Lord, our sentence has been served by God Himself.
Verses 7-9: "Therefore, I command you, saying, ‘You shall set aside three cities for yourself.’ 8 If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, just as He has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land which He promised to give your fathers— 9 if you carefully observe all this commandment which I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in His ways always—then you shall add three more cities for yourself, besides these three." The land that was promised is included in the words of the Lord to Abram in Genesis 15:18—"from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates." Some have doubted that the "river of Egypt" referred to the Nile, but that's what it was. And there is no doubt about the identity of the Euphrates—the Lord's intention for a faithful Israel always has included half of Egypt to the west and the Persian Gulf to the east. However, that territory was never fully realized for Israel, even during the reigns of David and Solomon, because so many did not "love the Lord your God, and... walk in His ways." Our problem as humans is that we might covet the label of being God's people, but at the same time neglect His ways. When He calls us, our lives are to be changed for the good. Even more cities of refuge were to be added, as seen in Verse 10: "So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and bloodguiltiness be on you." God's safe place in a peaceful land, His Sanctuary, is the future for you and me when we have faith in the Lord.
Verses 11-13: "But if there is a man who hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and rises up against him and strikes him so that he dies, and he flees to one of these cities, 12 then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. 13 You shall not pity him, but you shall purge the blood of the innocent from Israel, that it may go well with you." Years ago, my mother refused to trust in the Lord if He would save a person who had done something terrible in life. She had a point, but blessedly she eventually understood that God does not excuse the sin; He instead forgives the sinner. "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). We are all sinners but God's grace is such that we are saved through faith in the Lord who died for you and me. And with that understanding, my mother found faith in the Lord.
Verses 14-15: "You shall not move your neighbor’s boundary mark, which the ancestors have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess. 15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed." A look at the news or a discussion with an angry family member will reveal that there is something terribly wrong with humanity. God often operates within a perspective of thousands of years, which is one reason we don't understand—because at best, we think in terms of decades. If it wasn't around when we were children, we might think it never happened. So here is God bringing equity to troubled relationships, and He, who could do a much better job Himself, delegates many of our problems to us! Incredible, yet that's exactly what He does. Don't move "your neighbor's boundary mark" defining the extent of his land, which is to say—don't cheat your neighbor. And at least two witnesses were necessary to convict someone, avoiding both "He said, she said" situations, and unfair courtroom decisions.
Verses 16-21: "If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. 21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." Many have been accused of something they did not do. Years in prison can lead to, "We're sorry," and a release back into society at an advanced age. The justice system might well yield very different results if the false accuser was subject to the very penalties that threatened the accused. If you say I did it and I am found innocent, YOU would pay the penalty that was intended for me. False accusations lessen when the accuser is in danger of losing his or her own freedom, which is the real meaning of "an eye for an eye."
Father, You offer safety. Even if I lose everything on this earth, I receive LIFE in You. You bring me sanctuary in Christ, who died so I might be forgiven and safe—forever. I am Yours. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.