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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 19

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

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;

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 2

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 ... in the midst of thy land. Go'elism, or the duty of the nearest kinsman to avenge the death of a slaughtered relative, being the consuetudinary law of that age, as it still is among the Arabs and other people of the East, Moses incorporated it in an improved form with his legislative code. For the protection of the unintentional homicide, he provided certain cities of refuge; three had been destined for this purpose on the east of Jordan (Deuteronomy 4:41; Numbers 35:11); three were to be invested with the same privilege on the west of that river when Canaan should be conquered. "In the midst of thy land" - in such a position that they would be conspicuous and accessible, and equi-distant from the extremities of the land and from each other.

Verse 3

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 roads leading to them were to be kept in good condition, and the brooks or rivers to be spanned by good bridges; the width of the roads was to be 32 cubits; and at all the cross-roads sign-posts were to be erected with the words, Mekeleth, Mekeleth-`refuge, refuge,' painted on them.

Divide the coasts of thy land ... into three parts - the whole extent of the country from the south to the north. The three cities on each side of Jordan were opposite to each other "as two rows of vines in a vineyard" (see the notes at Joshua 20:7-8).

Verses 4-5

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;

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

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. Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot. This verse is a continuation of the third (for Deuteronomy 19:4-5, which are explanatory, are in a parenthetical form), and the meaning is, that if the kinsman of a person inadvertently killed, should, under the impulse of sudden excitement, and without inquiring into the circumstances, inflict summary vengeance on the homicide, however guiltless, the law tolerated such an act: it was to pass with impunity. But to prevent such precipitate measures, the cities of refuge were established for the reception of the homicide, that "innocent blood might not be shed in thy land" (Deuteronomy 19:10).

Whereas he was not worthy of death, [ Mishpat (H4941) maawet (H4194)] - he had not incurred a sentence of death; was not guilty of a capital crime. In the case of premeditated murder (Deuteronomy 19:11-12) these cities afforded no immunity; but if it was only manslaughter, the moment the fugitive was within the gates, he found himself in a safe asylum (Numbers 35:26-28; Joshua 20:6).

Verse 7

Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 8-9

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;

And if the Lord ... enlarge thy coast. Three additional sanctuaries were to be established in the event of their territory extending over the country from Hermon and Gilead to the Euphrates (see the notes at Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:31). But it was obscurely hinted that this last provision would never be carried into effect, as the Israelites could not fulfill the conditions-namely, 'that of keeping the commandments, to love the Lord, and walk ever in his ways.'

In point of fact, although that region was brought into subjection by David and Solomon, we do not find that cities of refuge were established, because those sovereigns only made the ancient inhabitants tributary, instead of sending a colony of Israelites to possess it. The privilege of sanctuary cities, however, was given only for Israelites; and besides, that conquered territory did not remain long under the power of the Hebrew kings.

One of the arguments of the modern Jews for concluding that Messiah is yet to come is founded on this passage-that as there was an addition of three cities of refuge in ancient times, the promise still remains to be fulfilled; because God never commanded a thing in vain (extract from Treatise of Maimonides in Wolff's 'Journal,' p. 58).

Verses 10-13

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

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 neighbour's landmark. The state of Palestine in regard to enclosures is very much the same now as it has always been. Though gardens and vineyards are surrounded by dry stone walls or hedges of prickly-pear, the boundaries of arable fields are marked by nothing but by a little trench, a small cairn, or a single erect stone placed at certain intervals. It is manifest that a dishonest person could easily fill the gutter with earth, or remove these stones a few feet, without much risk of detection, and enlarge his own field by a stealthy encroachment on his neighbour's. This law, then, was made to prevent such trespasses in the land which the Israelites were about to occupy; because when the country came to be divided among the tribes, and the families composing them had their respective patrimonies allotted, the leaders of the nation would at the first set the boundaries, which at no future period it would be lawful to alter or remove.

Verse 15

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. The following rules, to regulate the admission of testimony in public courts, are founded on the principles of natural justice. A single witness shall not be admitted to the condemnation of an accused person.


Verses 16-21

If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;

But if convicted of perjury, it will be sufficient for his own condemnation, and his punishment shall be exactly the same as would have overtaken the object of his malignant prosecution (see the notes at Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20). No mawkish sentimentalism or misplaced pity was to be indulged toward a false accuser, whose heartless enmity could stimulate him so far as to swear away the property or the life of a neighbour. The law was to be inflexibly executed on a convicted slanderer, who should be doomed to suffer the penalty of the crime with which he maliciously charged another; and nothing was so likely to put an effectual arrest on such infamous attempts as the infliction of this retributive justice.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 19". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/deuteronomy-19.html. 1871-8.
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