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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 19

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-21



Deuteronomy 19:1-13

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.

Deuteronomy 19:3

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; Deu 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.

Deuteronomy 19:4-7

(Cf. Numbers 35:11, etc.)

Deuteronomy 19:8, Deuteronomy 19:9

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.

Deuteronomy 19:10

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.

Deuteronomy 19:11-13

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.

Deuteronomy 19:14

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.

Deuteronomy 19:14

They of old time; i.e. those of a former age. 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.

Deuteronomy 19:15-21

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).

Deuteronomy 19:15

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.

Deuteronomy 19:16

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 [6], 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.

Deuteronomy 19:17

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).

Deuteronomy 19:19

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. Psa 31:1-24 :37; Psalms 37:12; Proverbs 30:32, etc.).

Deuteronomy 19:20

(Cf. Deuteronomy 13:12.)

Deuteronomy 19:21

The lex talionis was in this case to be observed (cf. Exodus 21:23; Leviticus 24:20). Practically, however, a pecuniary compensation might be accepted for the offence (cf. Josephus, 'Antiq.,' 4.8, 35).


Deuteronomy 19:1-13

The cities of refuge.

The appointment of cities of refuge by Moses is of great interest, as yielding a study in Jehovah's ways of educating his people, and of giving light and truth to men. We will see—

I. THE PLACE THIS INSTITUTION OCCUPIES IN HISTORY. £ So far as we are aware, there is nothing just now existing among civilized nations with which it is altogether analogous. The most recent regulations which seem to be a kind of reflection of it from afar, are those in the mediaeval Church, called "the right of sanctuary." Ecclesiastical historians inform us that the right of refuge in churches began as early as the days of Constantine; that at first only the altar and the interior of the Church was the place of refuge, but that afterwards any portion of the sacred precincts availed. This privilege was "not intended to patronize wickedness, but to give a place of shelter for the innocent, or, in doubtful cases, to give men protection till they could have a hearing, and to give bishops an opportunity of pleading for criminals." These refuges allowed thirty days' respite, though under the Anglo-Saxon law of King Alfred but three days were granted. It speaks but little for the advance of opinion then that the right of refuge was denied, not only to the openly wicked, but to heretics, apostates, and runaway slaves. In after times this right of sanctuary was granted even to notorious criminals, not excepting such as were guilty of treason. In early ages there were asyla among the Germans. Before that, among the Romans. In founding Rome, Romulus made it a place of refuge for criminals from other states, for the purpose of peopling the city. Further back, in the Greek states, the temples, altars, sacred groves, and statues of the gods possessed the privilege of protecting slaves, debtors, and criminals. And, if we go back further still, we find among Oriental peoples a custom known by the uncouth term, "blood-revenge," according to which, if a murder had been committed, the nearest of kin to the murdered man had a right to pursue the murderer and take vengeance on him. It is said that among the Arabs this right exists to the present day. In what form it existed among the ancient Egyptians we are able to infer from Mr. Lane's statement that it exists in almost savage wildness among the moderns. And we might gather, from the way in which Moses uses the term "avenger of blood," that the Hebrews may have been familiar with it, as having seen it practiced in Egypt, or as having received the custom from the nations among whom their fathers dwelt prior to going down into Egypt. This right of the nearest of kin to avenge a murder in a family is called goelism, from the word "goel," which has the two apparently incompatible meanings of "next of kin" and "avenger of blood." So that there are actually two institutions known of, in the light of which we have to look at these cities of refuge. One, goelism; the other, the right of sanctuary. Each of them was open to abuse. If the former had unrestricted sway, private revenge might bear very hardly on one who had accidentally killed another. Supposing the second to be left without guard, it might become the means of screening from justice criminals of the worst type. The first abuse was common among Oriental nations; the second, amongst Greeks, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and the mediaeval sanctuaries of Europe. And it is only as we set the Mosaic institution in the double light of the earlier ones out of which it came, and of the later ones which came out of it, that its real value can be seen. Hence we see—

II. THE PURPOSE IT SERVED IN THE MOSAIC LEGISLATION. There is one fundamental principle on which the Mosaic civil code is based, i.e. the value of patient culture. Moses found certain abuses existing. He did not sweep them away at once, but aimed at educating the people out of them. With regard to this right of revenge, he established such a remarkable system of checks and counter-checks as surely only a superhuman wisdom could, in that age, have devised. Our space will only allow us to indicate these very briefly.

1. Moses recognizes the sacredness of human life, both to God and to man.

2. He provides that, when a wrong is done to society, it should be in some way recognized, and that society should have its own safeguard against the repetition thereof.

3. A great step would be gained if such reparation for the wrong as is needed for the sake of security could be gained without any peril of the wild play of private revenge (Deuteronomy 19:6; Numbers 35:24).

4. A broad distinction is to be made between wrongs (Numbers 35:25).

5. The examination of the case and the decision upon it were put into the hands of the people through their elders and judges.

6. The cities of refuge were selected where justice was most likely to be done; even from the cities of the Levites.

7. All this was doubly fenced from abuse. For

(1) No murderer was to be screened (Numbers 35:31).

(2) No one was to be reckoned as a murderer on the unsupported testimony of one man. So that the goel had no power except there were corroborative evidence of guilt.

8. The reason is given in Numbers 35:33, Numbers 35:34. Now, when we know that all legislation has to be tested, not by the question, "What is absolutely the test?' but by "What is the best the people can bear?"—surely these laws give indications of a guidance and wisdom not less than Divine.

III. THE TYPICAL FORESHADOWINGS IN THIS INSTITUTION ARE NOTEWORTHY. They are many. The preacher may well luxuriate in working them out.

1. Outraged right requires vindication.

2. In vindicating the right and avenging the wrong, equity and kindness are to be studiously guarded. Grace is to reign through righteousness.

3. God, in his kindness, provides a refuge from the haste or excesses of private revenge.

4. God gives special directions concerning them. There was to be one in each district, so that the fleeing one might not have too far to go. The place was to be accessible; good roads thither were to be made. The Jews caught the spirit of the directions, and had direction-posts put at the corners of roads, with the words "Refuge! Refuge!" plainly put thereon. The same rule for a Hebrew applied to the stranger and foreigner. The refuge did not avail if a man did not rice thither. And there were sins for which it did not avail at all (see Numbers 35:11,Numbers 35:12, and Numbers 35:29-34); and where the refuge did avail it was only the death of the high priest which set a homicide entirely free from the consequences of his blood-shedding.

IV. THERE ARE SOME RELATED TRUTHS IN THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD WHICH ARE NOT FORESHADOWED IN THESE CITIES OF REFUGE. Two of these there are, and those so remarkable, that it is not surprising if some do not regard the cities of refuge as being typical at all.

1. Though the manslayer was to flee to the city, yet he was to flee from the goel. The opposite is the case under the gospel. We said that the word "goel" had two meanings, viz. that of "nearest of kin" and "avenger of blood," because the nearest of kin was the avenger of blood. But as the student traces the Bible use of this word, lo, it has a third meaning, even that of redeemer (Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 54:5, Isaiah 54:8; Isaiah 60:16). Jehovah is the Goel. The Lord Jesus Christ is our next of kin, the avenger of wrong, the Redeemer. He has vindicated the majesty of Law by bearing the stroke, that it may not be inflicted on the penitent. He is at once our City of Refuge and our Goel. We flee to him, not from him.

2. The refuge was provided for the delay of judgment till the case was examined. Here, refuge is for the penitent, that he may never come into judgment at all He may say and sing—

"Should storms of sevenfold thunder roll,
And shake the globe from pole to pole,
No flaming bolt shall daunt my face,
For Jesus is my Hiding-place."


Deuteronomy 19:1-13

Cities of refuge.

The institution of cities of refuge (cf. Deuteronomy 4:41-43) seems to have been peculiar to the legislation of Moses. It is an institution reflecting strong light on the wisdom, justice, and humanity of the Mosaic code. The system of blood revenging, while securing a rude kind of justice in communities where no proper means existed of bringing criminals to public trial, was liable to great abuses (Deuteronomy 19:6). The usage was, however, too deeply rooted to be at once abolished, and Moses, by this ordinance, did not seek prematurely to abolish it. The worst evils of the system were checked, and principles were asserted which were certain in course of time to lead to its abandonment. In particular the two principles were asserted:

1. The distinction between accidental homicide (Deuteronomy 19:4, Deuteronomy 19:5) and intentional murder (Deuteronomy 19:11).

2. The right of every criminal to-a legal trial. It is a proof of the wisdom of the institution that, under its operation, blood avenging seems very early to have died out in Israel.

These old cities of refuge, though their gray walls have long since crumbled to decay, have still much about them to interest us. We can scarcely regard them as ordained types of gospel realities, but they certainly furnish valuable illustrations of important gospel truths. To a reader of the New Testament, Christ is suggested by them, and shines through them, and the best use we can make of them is to learn from them the need of seeking a like security in Christ to that which the manslayer found in his strong city (see infra).J.O.

Deuteronomy 19:1-13

The cities of refuge as types.

Using the word in a popular and not in a theological sense, we may speak of them in this way. We have in the law ordaining them—

I. A VIVID PICTURE OF THE DANGER OF THE SINNER. In certain points the contrast is stronger than the resemblance.

1. The manslayer might be guiltless of the crime imputed to him. His act may have been unintentional. He had in that case done nothing worthy of death (Deuteronomy 19:6). To slay him would have been to shed "innocent blood." The sinner who seeks refuge in Christ cannot enter this plea. His sins are only too real and inexcusable.

2. The avenger of blood may have pursued the man-slayer unjustly. He may have sought his death in blind fury and passion. His hot heart would make no distinctions. The Avenger whom we have to fear is holy and just. His breast harbors no vindictiveness, nor does he pursue without just cause. Yet he does pursue, for sin is the one thing which God cannot tolerate in his universe, and he will not allow it to pass unjudged and unavenged. These are points of difference, but in the one point of awful and immediate danger, the parallel is exact. Outside the walls of the city of refuge the manslayer knew that there was no safety for him. A sword was unsheathed which would certainly drink his blood, if the pursuer could but overtake him. Delay meant death, and he would not tempt it by pausing one instant in his flight. Is the situation of the sinner out of Christ any less perilous? "The wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). The sword of justice is unsheathed against him. Whither shall he flee to escape his danger? Concealment may have been possible from the avenger of blood, but it is not possible from God. Nor will any other refuge than Christ avail. The man in shipwreck, who scorns to avail himself of the lifeboat, but prefers to cling to the solitary hulk, filling with water, and doomed soon to go to the bottom, is not more certain of his fate than is the transgressor of God's Law, rejecting Christ, letting his day of grace slip past, and clinging vainly to his own righteousness or to any other mocking hope. "Neither is there salvation in any other," etc. (Acts 4:12).

II. A VIVID PICTURE OF THE SECURITY OF THE REFUGE PROVIDED IN CHRIST. In Christ, our Savior, God has provided a secure and accessible refuge for the sinner. Here again there is a point of contrast as strongly marked as is the feature of resemblance. The refuge city was, after all, only a refuge for the innocent. The manslayer may have been rash and careless, and in that sense blameworthy, but he was not a willful murderer. For the deliberate murderer there was no asylum (Deuteronomy 19:11-14). He was to be taken even from God's altar, and put to death (Exodus 21:14). In this respect the gospel presents features different from the refuge of the Law. It is true that even in Christ there is no refuge for sinners wedded to their sins. If murderers may come to him, it is no longer with murderous, impenitent, unbelieving hearts. But, on the other hand, of those who turn to him in penitence, there is none whose sins are so black that the Savior will not take him in. The guiltiest and most red-handed may wash in his blood, and be cleansed from their stains (1 John 1:7). This is the peculiarity of the gospel that as, on the one hand, it proclaims the absolute need of salvation to those who may think themselves too good for it; so, on the other, it holds out welcome to those who might be tempted to think themselves too bad for it. There is none beyond the pale of God's mercy save he who puts himself beyond it by his own unbelief. Christ is a Refuge for sinners:

1. In virtue of the offices he sustains.

2. In virtue of the work he has accomplished.

3. In virtue of the position he occupies—appearing in heaven in the presence of God for us.

In him believers are safe. They are freed from condemnation (Romans 8:1). They are justified—saved from guilt and wrath—under Divine protection, and certain of acquittal in the judgment (Romans 5:1, Romans 5:9, Romans 5:10; Romans 8:31-39). They "have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks" (Isaiah 26:1).

III. A VIVID PICTURE OF THE SIMPLICITY OF THE WAY OF SALVATION. The way to the city of refuge was direct and plain. The roads were kept in good repair. A sufficient number of cities was provided to make the refuge readily accessible from every part of the land. It was God's desire that men should reach the refuge, and every facility was afforded them for doing so which the ease admitted of. How fit an image of the simplicity and directness of the gospel method of salvation through faith in Christ! "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). "It is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed" (Romans 4:16). Faith includes the three ideas of believing in, accepting of, and resting in Christ. Doubtless, to some, faith seems anything but easy. Carrying with it the surrender of the heart to Christ, it is, in one view of it, the hardest of all conditions. But it is hard only to those who love sin more than they desire salvation. The soul that sees the evil of its sin, and has a deep desire to escape from it and to be reconciled to God, will never cease to wonder at the simplicity of the way by which its salvation is secured.

IV. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE NECESSITY OF ABIDING IN CHRIST FOR SALVATION. The manslayer had to abide in the city till the high priest's death. If he went beyond it he was liable to be slain (Numbers 35:25-29). Our High Priest never dies, and we must abide in our city if we would be safe (John 15:4; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 10:38, Hebrews 10:39). The conclusion of the whole is, the duty of availing ourselves at once of this Refuge "set before us" (Hebrews 6:18).—J.O.

Deuteronomy 19:14

Removing the landmark.

1. A dishonest act.

2. A deceitful act.

3. A covetous act.

4. An injurious act.

Nothing would as a rule be more keenly resented than this mean attempt to rob the owner of land of a bit of his ancient possession.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 19:16-21

False witness.

God's brand is here placed upon the crime of false witness. It was to be severely punished. Every one is interested in the suppression of such a crime-the parties whose interests are involved, society at large, the Church, the magistracy, God himself, of one of whose commandments (the ninth) it is the daring violation. The rules here apply primarily to false witness given in courts of justice, but the principles involved may be extended to all forms of the sin.


1. It indicates great malevolence.

2. It is grievously unjust and injurious to the person wrongfully accused.

3. It is certain to be taken up and industriously propagated.

A calumny is never wholly wiped out. There are always found some evil-speaking persons disposed to believe and repeat it. It affixes a mark on the injured party which remains on him through life.

II. FALSE WITNESS ASSUMES MANY FORMS. It is not confined to law courts, but pervades private life, and appears in the way in which partisans deal with public men and public events. Persons of a malicious and envious disposition, given to detraction, can scarcely avoid it—indeed, live in the element of it. Forms of this vice:

1. Deliberate invention and circulation of falsehoods.

2. Innuendo, or suggestio falsi.

3. Suppression of essential circumstances—suppressio veri.

4. The distortion or deceitful coloring of actual facts.

A lie is never so successful as when it can attach itself to a grain of truth—

"A lie that is all a lie may be met and fought with outright;
But a lie that is part of a truth is a harder matter to fight."

III. THE FALSE WITNESS BORNE BY ONE AGAINST ANOTHER WILL BE EXPOSED AT GOD'S JUDGMENT SEAT. The two parties—he who was accused of bearing false witness and he who alleged himself to be injured by it—were required to appear before the Lord, and to submit their cause to the priests and judges, who acted as his deputies (Deuteronomy 19:17). It was their part to make diligent inquisition, and, if the crime was proved, to award punishment (Deuteronomy 19:18, Deuteronomy 19:19). The punishment was to be on the principle of the lex talionis (Deuteronomy 19:19-21). So, at Christ's judgment seat, the person who has long lain under an undeserved stigma through the false witness of another may depend on being cleared from wrong, and the wrong-doer will be punished (Colossians 3:25). Meanwhile, it is the duty of every one to see to the punishment of this crime, not only in cases of actual perjury, But in every form of it, and not only by legal penalties, but—which is the only means that can reach every case—by the emphatic reprobation of society, and, where that is possible, by Church censures.—J.O.


Deuteronomy 19:1-13

The cities of refuge.

The blood-feud, as we know, was carried out remorselessly among nomadic nations, the manslayer having to be slain, even though his manslaying were purely accidental. In other words, there was no distinction made between manslaughter and murder by the nomadic nations in the rude early ages. But, by the Lord creating the cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan, to which the manslayer could repair, and where, if it was manslaughter only, he could remain without molestation till the death of the high priest, a distinction between these two crimes was carefully made. £ The city of refuge was a divinely ordained place of peace for the person who had only slain his neighbor accidentally. In case of premeditated murder, the person was to be taken even from God's altar and executed.

I. THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL WERE HEREBY TAUGHT THAT ALL SINS ARE NOT EQUALLY HEINOUS IN GOD'S SIGHT. Morality must differentiate and distinguish, not treat sin in the lump. Morality is undermined where revenge treats manslaughter and murder alike. The Old Testament morality was thus a great advance on the morality of the time.


Law is sometimes regarded as merciless rigor, whereas its sacrificial ceremonies and such an arrangement as this before us proclaimed pardon and escape for some sinners. An undertone of mercy was heard underneath the thunder of its wrath.
Now, the way of pardon is instructive. It was to be prepared. Towards the cities of refuge the best roads of the country converged. Directions were given to keep them clear, that the man who was fleeing for his life might have his fair chance of escape.

And what agony must have been experienced along that way! The possibility of being overtaken, and having the life taken away, must have made the race to the city a desperate ordeal.

And then the imprisonment there till the death of the high priest must have made the manslayer walk very softly all those days. When at last the high priest died, he was free!
Now all this, we believe, is typical of the gospel. The soul is, like the manslayer, guilty of shedding innocent blood. Doubtless not intentionally, but much evil is wrought by want of thought, as well as by want of heart. We are all guilty. But a way has been provided for our safety. It is a way of anxiety, of solemn thought, and eventually of peace through the death of him who is our High Priest. Safety in the city of refuge is the symbol of safety in Jesus Christ; while he is also the High Priest whose death delivers and restores the exile. It takes the two things, the city of refuge and the death of the high priest, to bring out all that Jesus is to sinful men.

III. THERE WAS UNPARDONABLE SIN UNDER THE LAW, AS THERE IS UNDER THE GOSPEL. The murderer was not protected in a city of refuge, but delivered up to execution. Murder was one of the sins which the Law deemed unpardonable. We mean, of course, unpardonable so far as this life and world are concerned.

Now what we have to notice is that, under the gospel, there is an unpardonable sin. And about this sin our Lord is very explicit. It is unforgivingness, the perpetuation of the murderous spirit in impenitent mood. We do not hold that the blood of Jesus Christ is insufficient to cleanse away all sin (1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:7)—the very opposite. But so long as a soul regards others with an unforgiving temper, it is manifest that the Divine grace has been kept at bay. God will not forgive those who are not forgiving Forgivingness and forgiveness are twin sisters, and they visit the soul together. If God has really forgiven us, we shall find ourselves in a forgiving mood, the least we could do in the circumstances; but conversely, if we continue in hard, unforgiving mood, it is proof positive that we have not yet experienced God's forgiveness. How deeply the gospel probes our carnal nature, and conquers it!

IV. VENGEANCE CANNOT BE DISPENSED WITHIN GOD'S GOVERNMENT, AND WE NEED NOT CALCULATE UPON SUCH A DISPENSATION. The avenger of blood was the officer for the time being of public justice. It was a public duty he was called to discharge. And public justice still has its revenges, and will, as long as criminals continue. It is the same with God. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." The weapon is a dangerous one for us to handle, but God will take charge of it, and will use it as the interests of good and all-wise government require.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 19:14-21

The law of retaliation.

When we consider "retaliation," we find that it is the converse of the "golden rule." In fact, it is giving back to a person his breach of that rule to see how he likes it. It is just a rough method of teaching rude, selfish souls that there is retribution in all selfish practices; the gun may be fired maliciously, but it sooner or later lays the sportsman in the dust. Now, it is morally right that those who do to others as they do not wish others to do to them should have precisely their own paid back to them. It is simple justice.

I. PUBLIC JUSTICE MAKES PROVISION FOR THIS IN EVERY CIVILIZED COUNTRY. When Jesus directed his disciples not to retaliate, but to cultivate the spirit of nonresistance to evil (Matthew 5:38 Matthew 5:42), he did not wish them to take the law into their own hands, but to leave to public justice what in the olden time had to be settled privately. He certainly did not mean that his disciples should screen men from the processes of public law, when they had made themselves amenable thereto. His advice regarded the edifice of public justice as raised by advancing civilization, and taking up consequently many matters which private parties in a ruder age had to deal with. £

II. RETALIATION WAS IN THE EARLY TIME A DUTY WHICH INDIVIDUALS OWED TO THE PUBLIC. It is too often supposed that revenge is such a gratification that men need no exhortation to take it. But we find men that are too cowardly to retaliate, men who would rather let the greatest ruffians escape than risk anything in giving them their desert. £ Before the erection of public justice, therefore, as a recognized and well-wrought institution, it was necessary to sustain the courage of the people against lawlessness by making retaliation a public duty. The avenger was not a man thirsting for blood, but one who would very likely have remained snugly at home instead of risking his life in retaliation. Men have to be "whipped up" oftentimes to the requisite courage for public duty.

III. RETALIATION, WHEN FAITHFULLY CARRIED OUT, WAS A CHECK ON SELFISH CONDUCT AND A HELP TO A HIGHER MORALITY. The golden rule of doing unto others as we would that they should do to us was the goal at which the morality of the Old Testament was aiming. One way of leading up to it is by carrying out its opposite, and giving to the wrong-doer an idea of what it is to receive what we do not desire. We have to practice this in the correction of children. When they act a cruel part by others, they get a taste of suffering themselves, just to let them know what it is like.

IV. AT THE BACK OF ALL GOD'S MERCY THERE IS THE ALTERNATIVE OF STRICT JUDGMENT IN CASE HIS MERCY IS REFUSED. The gospel is the golden rule in its highest exemplification. It is God doing unto man as he would have man do unto him were he in such circumstances. But if men reject the Divine mercy, and will not receive God's love, then there is no other alternative but strict justice. And strict justice means retaliation. It is giving back to man what he dares to give to God. If man refuses God's love, and, instead of accepting and returning it, gives to God hate; then it is only right, eternally right, that he should receive what he gives. God cannot bat hate as utterly abominable the soul that hates him who is essential Love. Wrath is the "love-pain of God" (Liebes-schmertz Gottes), as Schoberlein has called it. It is forced on him by the action of his creatures. They have had the opportunity of love, but, since they refuse it, they must be visited by wrath.

Hence there is nothing weak about the Divine administration. Its backbone is justice; but special arrangements were made in the atonement of Jesus to allow of God being "justly merciful;" when, however, this just mercy is rejected, God must return to the stricter lines, and deal with the ungrateful as they deserve. In the retaliation of God there is, of course, nothing mean and nothing selfish. His vengeance is in the interests of public morals, and a necessary part of a wise administration. There should be no trifling, then, with the Divine offer; for, if it be not accepted, men must prepare for wrath.—R.M.E.


Deuteronomy 19:1-10

The cities of refuge.

The territory of Canaan was allotted to the Jews for this special end, that the principles of the heavenly kingdom might be practically unfolded on earth. In the Divine treatment of men, as members of the body politic, justice and mercy were to be harmoniously blended. Human life was uniformly treated as precious, but righteousness was revealed as more precious still.

I. SEVERE INJURY TO MEN MAY BE WROUGHT SIMPLY BY THOUGHTLESS INADVERTENCE. The physical laws of nature are stupendous forces, which man must well investigate and comprehend, if he would wisely control. They are evidently intended for the welfare of mankind, and prove very useful servants, but very dangerous masters. In the infancy of science and technical skill, great peril arises to human life from gigantic forces which we have not learnt to command. The fall of an axe, the course of a projectile, is according to the operation of fixed law. Careful observance of this law is life; heedlessness is death. "Evil is wrought by want of thought, as well as want of heart."

II. THE DUTY OF THE STATE POLITIC TO PROVIDE FOR THE NECESSITIES OF THE UNFORTUNATE. Before the Jews entered into possession of the Promised Land, God gave them instruction how to fulfill responsible duties. If it was a claim of justice that refuge cities should be provided for unwary manslayers, then justice would equally require that provision should be made for all sorts of unfortunates and afflicted ones. To stay the hand of private revenge—to prevent the effusion of innocent blood—private vigilance does not suffice; it must be the business of the State. The whole community is addressed by God, as if it were a single person. In some respects, each man and each woman has to act separately and alone; in some respects, they have to merge serf into the family, and the family into the nation. Man must learn to act as part of a greater whole.

III. THE FAMILY TIE IS ALWAYS STRONGER THAN THE NATIONAL TIE. It is Obvious that this is the natural order. If a man was inadvertently killed, some blood relation would, in all likelihood, espouse the cause of the injured, and thirst to avenge the injury. Men feel bound to protect each the other against the assaults of violence. There is an understood compact for mutual protection. But, in proportion as affection becomes diffused and spreads over a larger area, so it becomes attenuated. What it gains in extension it loses in intensity. Therefore checks and restraints are needed for immoderate family feeling.

IV. HUMAN FEELING IS MORE RAPID IN ITS MOVEMENTS THAN THE JUDGMENTS OF REASON. On the whole it is best that it should be so. Self-preservation often depends on the spontaneous movement of instinct. But whenever human life is not in imminent peril, it is becoming that sane men should reflect and ponder before they yield to vindictive feeling. It is quite possible that the man killed was the more blameworthy; perhaps the only blameworthy of the two; yet the vengeful blood of neighbor or friend of the dead waits for no inquiry, but rushes off to add another to the tenants of Hades. This also is the work of the devil, and must be resisted. We must learn to bring all instincts and feelings under the scepter of reason and love. Haste usually is a mark of weakness or of madness.

V. REVENGE IS INVIGORATING: SORROW AND FEAR ARE ENERVATING. If, under ordinary circumstances, two men were well matched in strength and courage, the one who has unwarily killed a neighbor is so enfeebled by sorrow or by fear (or by both), that he is no longer a match for the other. On the other hand, the man who undertakes to champion the cause of the dead is lifted into almost superhuman stature anal strength. For the moment he feels as if girded with omnipotence, and acquires fleetness, courage, and strength over the quailing person of the manslayer. Therefore, every possible facility must the state politic afford for the relief of the manslayer against the avenger.

VI. TERRITORIAL PROPERTY CARRIES WITH IT RESPONSIBLE DUTIES. Material property has its dark side as well as its bright. It brings burdens as well as enjoyments.

With every increase of territory, God required that there should be increase of refuge cities, and that roads should be prepared along which the unsinning manslayer should flee. All earthly blessings have their drawbacks, but heavenly possessions are unalloyed. They are pure gold without admixture, sun without shade, summer without winter.

VII. RELIGION ENNOBLES AND BEAUTIFIES EVERY EARTHLY LOT. The land which we inherit, or which furnishes for us a temporary home, is a gift from God. He has not parted with the freehold. It is his absolutely, and in the use of it his will is ever to be consulted. We have but a life enjoyment in it. As it is a free gift from him, we are bound to respect all the clauses he embodies in the trust. He is to be recognized and revered perpetually. The refuge cities were the residences of the priests; the elders of these cities were priests of Jehovah, therefore they were representatives of Jehovah's mercy. These cities were emphatically "cities of salvation." Their walls were deliverance; their gates, praise. They were symbols of Calvary—types of the great redemption.—D.

Deuteronomy 19:11-13

Lex talionis.

The refuge provided by mercy is open to abuse. The perversity of man will poison the streams from the heavenly fountain. But in this city of peace none shall abide except those who have clean hands. False hopes are doomed to crushing disappointment. Even from the gate of heaven there is a back way to the prison-house of hell. The man of blood eventually destroys himself.

I. HATRED IS INGENIOUS IN ACCOMPLISHING ITS NEFARIOUS ENDS. Hatred has an insatiable appetite. It drives a man in whom it dwells, as with a slave-master's whip, to do its base behests. It robs him of his sleep at night, that he may lie in ambush for some innocent victim. All day long he is driven to most odious tasks by this spirit of mischief. Without interruption, hatred holds its busy conclave in the dark caverns of the soul, and presses into service every faculty of the man, until it has clutched its prey.

II. THE MURDEROUS MAN FLATTERS HIMSELF THAT HE SHALL BE SAFE. He is conscious that vengeance is in store for him. No sooner is the deed done than cowardly fear seizes him. The righteousness of God has fleet-footed detectives in its service. Nevertheless, cunning falsehood comes to him as the devil's comforter. Though his hands be stained through and through with blood, he will wear gloves of innocence, a mask of pretence. It were a [nobler thing to brave the matter out, and defy all opposition. But this the sinner cannot do. He quails before the omniscient eye; and, however insecure the hiding-place, he cheats himself with the hope of escape. Guilty as his conscience affirms him to be, he seeks a place among the innocent. For the sinner no refuge can be found. The earth shall cast him out.

III. THE POWER OF DEATH IS A SOVEREIGN FUNCTION OF THE STATE. "The elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence." Human life is too precious to be placed at the disposal of private revenge; therefore the chief province of the state politic is to protect life against violence. Unbiased natures are the only proper judges of right and wrong. Justice will speak only in the calm atmosphere of sincerity and truth. The representative power of the whole community is the only power which fully suffices to vindicate the claims of righteousness. This is God's vicegerent upon the earth. Hence magistrates are described as "gods."

IV. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS NOBLER THAN PITY. There are circumstances in which Pity must not speak—a time for her to be silent. "Thine eye shall not pity." There are some situations in which her presence would be out of place, her action injurious. But Righteousness must never be absent. The very atmosphere in God's kingdom is penetrated with her vital breath. Her scepter is the scepter of God, and exerts a potent influence over every department of human life. Righteousness is the soul's proper robe, and without it she can nowhere fitly appear. All true prosperity is the fruit of righteousness. It cannot go well with any nation, nor with any man, until guilt is put away. Even compassion for others must be a righteous compassion.—D.

Deuteronomy 19:14

Caution against fraud.

Nothing that concerns man's welfare and joy is beneath God's care. The vast extent of his kingdom hinders not his guardianship ever every minute interest of his creatures. Even landmarks, boundary stones, are under his protection.

I. GOD IS TO BE RECOGNIZED AS THE ABSOLUTE PROPRIETOR OF ALL THINGS. As the Creator and Upholder of the universe, he has supreme claim to this solid globe. "The earth is the Lord's" Nor has he ever parted with his rightful claim, for he keeps the globe hourly in existence, and so continually proclaims his control over it. It is his gift to men, not in the sense that he has transferred all his rights to others, but only in the sense that we were unable to purchase from him. We hold every possession from him in trust, and are bound by such terms and conditions as his will may impose.

II. IT IS GOD'S WILL THAT LAND SHOULD BE DISTRIBUTED AS PERSONAL ESTATE. Although evils result from the division of the land into personal property, greater evils would result from communal or indiscriminate possession. The fields would not be well cultured. The land would not yield her prolific plenty. Dispute and strife would be the chronic state of society. Personal property is essential to healthy life in the State. Yet men are stewards, and not absolute proprietors.

III. BOUNDARY LINES BETWEEN OUR OWN AND OTHER'S POSSESSIONS ARE TO BE SCRUPULOUSLY RESPECTED. The arrangements of personal property offer a fine field for self-restraint, as well as for neighborly kindness. If we had been destitute of all possessions, we should be denied the enjoyment of helping others. A man who has regard for the health of his own soul, will not remove his neighbor's landmarks by so much as a single inch. He will rather lose a pound than take by fraud a penny. This Divine command is but a tiny branch springing out of the root principle, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."—D.

Deuteronomy 19:15-21

Bulwark against perjury.

"The tongue is an unruly member, and cannot easily be restrained." Private slander is base enough, but its basest utterance is when, in the sacred halls of justice, it swears away a man's reputation or his life. It is doubtful if a deed so black is done in hell.

I. PERJURY IS SO COMMON AS TO NECESSITATE A PUBLIC STIGMA ON HUMANITY. "One witness shall not rise up against a man." If every man had been known as truthful, the testimony of one witness on any accusation would be ample. The narration of one eye-witness or ear-witness ought to be enough. For a truthful man would always speak within the limits of truth, and would promptly express his doubt, if certainty could not be reached. But the common experience of humanity has been that the bulk of men will prevaricate and conceal the truth, even under the solemn sanction of an oath. Hence it has been found wise to condemn no man judicially, unless more than one witness can be found. Cumulative evidence is required to obtain a valid sentence. This can be interpreted in no other way than a public testimony to the depravity of man. The prisoner obtains the benefit.

II. PERJURY IS A CRIME, TO BE TRIED IN THE HIGHEST COURT OF THE REALM. The accused and the accuser in such a case shall "stand before the Lord." This is not so much a sin against man as a sin against God. The sacred person of Truth has been publicly violated, and the wisest and holiest in the land are commissioned by God to be the judges. As often as we violate the truth, we insult the God of truth, and stand before God for judgment. Hence it is of the first importance that we cultivate truthfulness in our thoughts and in our speech.

III. IN PROPORTION TO THE GRAVITY OF THE CHARGE SHOULD BE THE THOROUGHNESS OF THE SCRUTINY. Although we may expect to know the will of God in any particular ease by laying our own minds open to the action of God's Spirit, we are still bound to pursue the most diligent and thorough inquiry. God rewards, not the indolent, but the patient searcher after truth. He that does the truth will discover the truth. "God helps those who help themselves."

IV. INTENDED MISCHIEF IS TREATED AS ACTUAL CRIME. The character and quality of a deed depend upon the moral intention. Whether the intention becomes an overt act will often depend upon outward opportunity and circumstance. But God sees the incipient motive and purpose; in his court, judgment passes upon the offender. Human courts are to be, as far as possible, copies of the court of heaven. Hence the perjured witness, who seeks to visit judicial penalties upon the head of the innocent, is himself as guilty as if his base project had succeeded. "Into the pit which he had digged for another he shall fall himself." The gallows which Haman prepared for Mordecai, served for his own doom. This is God's law of retribution.

V. THE END SOUGHT IN THIS JUDICIAL EXECUTION IS THE PUBLIC GOOD. The sacrifice of one life is intended to bring advantage to the many. The moral effect is most precious, viz. regard for righteousness—public abstinence from crime. Every man should be filled with this patriotic sentiment—the higher virtue of the nation. We may do good in our circle, either intensively on the minds of a few, or extensively on the minds of the many. In doing good to others we do good to ourselves. "We are members one of another."—D.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 19". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/deuteronomy-19.html. 1897.
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