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Deeper Commentary



Deu 19:1 When Yahweh your God shall cut off the nations whose land Yahweh your God gives you, and you succeed them and dwell in their cities and in their houses-
"Succeed" is s.w. "possess". We must note the difference between the  Canaanite peoples and their kings being "struck" and their land "taken" by Joshua-Jesus; and the people of Israel permanently taking possession. This is the difference between the Lord's victory on the cross, and our taking possession of the Kingdom. Even though that possession has been "given" to us. The word used for "possession" is literally 'an inheritance'. The allusion is to the people, like us, being the seed of Abraham. The Kingdom was and is our possession, our inheritance- if we walk in the steps of Abraham. But it is one thing to be the seed of Abraham, another to take possession of the inheritance; and Israel generally did not take possession of all the land (Josh. 11:23 13:1; 16:10; 18:3; 23:4). The language of inheritance / possession is applied to us in the New Testament (Eph. 1:11,14; Col. 3:24; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Pet. 1:4 etc.). Israel were promised: "You shall possess it" (Dt. 30:5; 33:23). This was more of a command than a prophecy, for sadly they were "given" the land but did not "possess" it. They were constantly encouraged in the wilderness that they were on the path to possessing the land (Dt. 30:16,18; 31:3,13; 32:47), but when they got there they didn't possess it fully.

Despite being fully aware of how weak Israel were, Moses often speaks of the " blessing" which God would give them for obedience; he even speaks of the future blessing of obedience in the prophetic perfect, so confident was he that they would receive it: "Every man shall give as he is able (once he is settled in the land), according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He has given you" (Dt. 16:17). Moses speaks with confidence of how God would grant them the blessing of the land and victory over their enemies, even though these things were conditional upon their obedience (Dt. 19:1; 20:13), and even though Moses clearly knew that most of them would disobey. The conclusion from this is that Moses thought so much of that minority who would obey his covenant, who would grasp the spirit of his life and the speech he was now making. And our Lord likewise- in His feelings for us.

Deu 19:2 you must set apart three cities for you in the midst of your land, which Yahweh your God gives you to possess-
The person who committed something worthy of death but didn’t as it were willfully do it represents each of us. The language of the city of refuge therefore becomes applicable to Christ, our refuge from the results of our sin (Heb. 6:18).

Deu 19:3 You shall prepare the way, and divide the borders of your land which Yahweh your God causes you to inherit, into three parts, that any manslayer may flee there-
John the Baptist's ideas of fleeing wrath and preparing a way are surely based upon the Law’s command in Dt. 19:3 that a way or road should be prepared to the city of refuge (symbolic of Christ- Heb. 6:18), along which the person under the death sentence for manslaughter could flee for refuge. John was preparing that way or road to Christ, and urging ordinary people to flee along it. They didn’t like to think they were under a death sentence for murder. They were just ordinary folk like the soldiers who grumbled about their wages, and the publicans who were a bit less than honest at work. But they had to flee.

The command to prepare a way along which to flee to the cities of refuge (Dt. 19:3) is expressed with the very same words used about God through the Angels preparing a way for Israel to flee along, out of Egypt to the promised land (Ex. 23:20). This was obviously done purely at God’s initiative. But now, Israel were asked to do the same- to prepare a way for their and others’ salvation. When we reflect upon our own way of escape from this world, it’s clear enough that it was by grace. By God’s sole initiative we came into contact with the Gospel, or were born into such a family at such a time as enabled us to hear it. Our response to that grace must be like Israel’s- to prepare a way for others to flee, when they like us find themselves in a situation that is spiritually against them, although not of their conscious choice.

Deu 19:4 This is the case of the manslayer that shall flee there and live. Whoever kills his neighbour unawares and didn’t hate him in time past-
We are all in the position of the man who unintentionally committed manslaughter and must therefore die. We are under sentence of death by reason of being human, as well as for our actual sins. The avenger of blood could be seen as God, for it is He alone who has the right to execute judgment for sin. And we must note that the word ga'al translated "avenger" is also that translated "redeemer" or 'ransomer'. The cities of refuge are therefore understood in Heb. 6:18 as looking ahead to refuge in the Lord Jesus: "Who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us". The allusion is to how the person who found they had committed a sin worthy of death, yet without as it were wishing to have done so, could flee to a city of refuge and be saved there by the death of the high priest. The curse upon Levi was that the members of this tribe were to be scattered in Israel (Gen. 49:7). However, this resulted in the cities of the Levites being scattered throughout the land, thus providing accessible cities of refuge to all who wished to escape the consequences of sin. Those cities were evidently symbolic of the refuge we have in Christ. Again and again, the curses and consequences of human sin are used by the Father to mediate blessing. It is the sure hope before us which is our refuge. "Hope", elpis, is a confident knowledge of a future reality, rather than a hoping for the best. We should be confident in our salvation. The 'guilty' person was made free totally through the death of the High Priest, clearly looking forward to the significance of the death of the Lord Jesus. 

Deu 19:5 as when a man goes into the forest with his neighbour to chop wood, and his hand fetches a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and hits his neighbour so that he dies; he shall flee to one of these cities and live-
A theme of Deuteronomy is the way in which Moses visualizes commonplace daily incidents which he could foresee occurring in Israel's daily life: the man cutting down the tree and the axe head flying off and hitting someone; finding a dead body in a lonely field; coming across a stray animal on the way home from work; a man with two wives treating one as his favourite; seeing your neighbour struggling to lift up his sick animal; coming across a bird's nest and being tempted to take the mature bird as well as the chicks home for supper; being tempted not to bother building a battlement around the flat roof of your  new house; the temptation to take a bag with you and fill it up with your neighbour's grapes; the need to have weapons which could be used for covering excrement (Dt. 19:5; 21:1,15; 22:1,2,4,6,8; 23:13,24,25; 24:5,6,10,15,19; 25:11,13). The sensitivity of Moses was just fantastic! His eager imagination of His people in daily life, his understanding of their everyday temptations so superbly typifies that of our Lord!  

Deu 19:6 lest the avenger of blood pursue the manslayer while his heart is hot and overtake him because the way is long, and strike him mortally, whereas he was not worthy of death because he didn’t hate him in time past-
We note that hatred of a neighbour was to be the reason for death. John appears to have this in mind when he reasons that hatred of our brother is effectively a living death sentence (1 Jn. 2:11; 4:20). It was to be that "whoever hates his brother is a murderer", not a manslaughterer (1 Jn. 3:15). And that hatred can be in someone's heart, even if they have not killed the object of their hatred. This is the principle which is taught here.

But Israel were not to avenge (Lev. 19:18). But they could avenge, and provisions were made for their human desire to do so in some cases (see too Num. 35:12). These provisions must also be seen as a modification of the command not to murder. The highest level was not to avenge; but for the harshness of men's hearts, a concession was made in some cases, and on God's prerogative. We have no right to assume that prerogative. Rather than continually make use of God’s many concessions to human weakness, we should seek to live on a higher level.

Deu 19:7 Therefore I command you, saying, You must set apart three cities for yourselves-
The emphasis was very much upon them making the cities of refuge, and defining the paths which led to them from all settlements in the land (Dt. 19:3): "I command you, saying, You must set apart three cities for yourselves" (Dt. 19:7). Yet the record in Joshua 18-20 shows that Israel didn't do this, because they didn't even capture all the cities which were to be cities of refuge.

Deu 19:8 If Yahweh your God enlarges your border as He has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land which He promised to give to your fathers-
If Israel had been obedient, then “the Lord your God shall enlarge thy border” (Dt. 12:20). Thus “blessed be He that enlarges Gad” (Dt. 33:20). Who knows the height and depth, length and breadth of what could have been for God’s people? And the same is true for us today. According to Israel’s perception of the land, so it was defined for them. God was clearly willing to still work with Israel even if He redefined the promised land to a scaled down version of what had been promised to Abraham. He is ever open to recalculation of His intentions in order to by all means remain in relationship with His wayward people.

Deu 19:9 if you keep all this commandment to do what I command you this day, to love Yahweh your God and walk always in His ways, then you shall add three cities more for yourselves besides these three-
Those cities of refuge could have been increased in number, thereby making salvation that much 'easier' or accessible; but there is no evidence Israel availed themselves of this. Israel would be provided with more cities of refuge if they were obedient; the way of escape from sin would become easier, as it does for us the more we are obedient to God’s principles.

Some time, read through the book of Deuteronomy in one or two sessions. You'll see many themes of Moses in Deuteronomy. It really shows how Moses felt towards Israel, and how the Lord Jesus feels towards us, and especially how he felt towards us just before his death. For this is what the whole book prefigures. "Love" and the idea of love occurs far more in Deuteronomy than in the other books of the Law. "Fear the Lord your God" of Ex. 9:30; Lev. 19:14,32; 25:17 becomes "love the Lord your God" in Deuteronomy (Dt. 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1; 19:9; 30:6,16,20). There are 23 references to not hating in Deuteronomy, compared to only 5 in Ex. - Num.; Moses saw the danger of bitterness and lack of love. He saw these things as the spiritual cancer they are, in his time of maturity he warned his beloved people against them. His mind was full of them. The LXX uses the word ekklesia eight times in Deuteronomy, but not once in Moses' other words (Dt. 4:10; 9:10; 18:16; 23:1,2,3,8; 32:1). Responsibility for the whole family God had redeemed was a mark of Moses; maturity at the end of his life, at the time of Deuteronomy. It is observable that both as a community and as individuals, this will be a sign of our maturity too.

Deu 19:10 so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance, and so guilt for blood be upon you-
If Israel were indifferent to preparing the way for others’ salvation, then innocent blood would be shed and they would be responsible for it (Dt. 19:10). This is powerful stuff. Indifference to providing others with a way of escape from their sin and death means we are actually guilty of their lack of salvation. And yet we tend to think that committed sin is all we have to worry about / avoid. The lesson here, however, bites far more caustically and insistently into our comfort zone. If we are indifferent to marking out the way of escape for others, their blood will be upon our heads. Our chief excuses for not witnessing enthusiastically basically amount to laziness, indifference, not getting our act together because we don’t see we have to… when actually, there is an intense urgency about our task.

Deu 19:11 But if any man hates his neighbour, and lies in wait for him and rises up against him and strikes him mortally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities-
There are 23 references to not hating in Deuteronomy, compared to only 5 in Ex. - Num.; Moses saw the danger of bitterness and lack of love. He saw these things as the spiritual cancer they are, in his time of maturity he warned his beloved people against them. His mind was full of them.

Deu 19:12 then the elders of his city must send and bring him from there, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood that he may die-
The slayer of innocent blood was to be slain without pity: "you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you" (Dt. 19:13). But David seems to have stepped up to a higher level when he told the woman of Tekoah that he would protect her son from revenge murder, after he had slain another man (2 Sam. 14:8-10). The woman pointed out that if her son was slain, the inheritance would be lost in her husband's name. Here was a case where two principles seemed to be at variance: the need to slay the guilty, and the need to preserve the inheritance. The higher level was to forgive the slayer of innocent blood, even though the Law categorically stated that he should be slain.

Deu 19:13 Your eye shall not pity him, but you must put away the innocent blood from Israel-
We would rather expect that guilty blood must be put away. AV has "the guilt of innocent blood", LXX "so shalt thou purge innocent blood". The idea was that the guilt for innocent blood must be purged by blood. The Lord's blood was the ultimate innocent blood, and so Israel were being prepared to accept that blood was to be shed for His blood. And thus it happened (Mt. 27:25; Acts 5:28).  

That it may go well with you-
Things 'going well / good' with Israel is the language of the Kingdom of God in Dt. 8:16 "to do you good / well at your latter end". It is associated with days being prolonged (Dt. 22:7) and the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham (Dt. 30:5), and Israel and the children somehow existing "forever" (Dt. 12:28). So I deduce in the wish "that it may go well with you" a hint towards the eternal establishment of God's Kingdom based around Israel, what Paul terms "the hope of Israel". 

Deu 19:14 You must not remove your neighbour’s landmark, which those of old time have set, in your inheritance which you shall inherit, in the land that Yahweh your God gives you to possess it-
The law of Moses reasons as if each family of Israel had a specific inheritance which was not to be sold or moved outside the family. Hence the sin of Ahab in obtaining Naboth's vineyard. It would seem that there was some unrecorded list made of each family and which land they were to be given. This looks forward to our very personal and unique inheritance in God's Kingdom, possibly based around spiritual family units. This was "The inheritance of fathers", "your possession" (Lev. 25:27,28; Num. 36:7,8). God had given specific inheritances to His people, that this was not to be sold or traded. The division by lot in Josh. 15:1 presumably meant that the tribal areas were defined and then distributed by lot. And then within those areas, each family was given a specific inheritance.

Deu 19:15 One witness must not rise up against a man for any iniquity or for any sin that he commits. At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses shall a matter be established-
Insisting on more than one witness before accepting the truth of an allegation meant that gossip and slander were limited; and Jesus applies this principle to dealing with disputes within His church (Mt. 18:16). Although His teaching about not condemning our brethren meant that He didn't advocate as it were 'putting to death', but rather stern rebuke and damage limitation. Those who served other gods had to die on the testimony of two or three witnesses. This idea is twice alluded to in the New Testament in the context of making the decision to cease fellowship with someone (Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1). The implication is that death under the Old Covenant pointed forward to first century church discipline under the New Covenant. But we must note that the reason for this was serving other gods and wilful departing from covenant relationship with the Lord- not minor reasons. And yet the Lord appears to go a step beyond this; for I detect in Mt. 18:16 a reference to this law, but He goes on to suggest that the higher level in interpersonal offences is not to apply this but to simply forgive.

Deu 19:16 If an unrighteous witness rises up against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing-
We have just read in :15 that the testimony of one man was not to be accepted. So this foresees a case when more than one man makes false testimony. What is in view here is a supporting witness who lives, and this will then result in the two individuals accusing each other coming "before Yahweh" (:17). In other words, the testimony of one man plus one supporting witness still wasn't enough. In this case, the matter must come before Yahweh (:17). There is here a strong sense of "innocent until proven guilty", and an awareness that a supporting witness might also be telling untruth. 

Deu 19:17 then both the men in the controversy shall stand before Yahweh, before the priests and the judges who shall be in those days-
David and Solomon appear to have concentrated all judgment in themselves, setting themselves up effectively as both king and priest, for the "judge" was to be a priest. Jehoshaphat reformed this by placing the power of judgment in the hands of a group of Levites, priests and heads of families as the higher court in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 19:5-8). But still Jehoshaphat didn't appoint a singular senior judge, as required in Dt. 17:9. We note from Dt. 19:17 that this singular priestly supreme judge is called "Yahweh", because he was to be Yahweh's supreme representative when it came to judgment. But it seems even the best kings of Judah preferred to keep that office in their own power.

Proverbs stresses that the man who loves wisdom will be able to judge wisely (Prov. 2:9; 31:9). Yet it was the priests who were the judges of Israel (Dt. 19:17), they were the ones to whom hard cases were brought. Yet Proverbs implies all could act as priests. "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable (a word elsewhere used concerning the priests' service, Dt. 21:5) than (the offering of) sacrifice" (Prov. 21:5). Loving wisdom would give the ordinary Israelite a crown on his head (Prov. 4:9), alluding to the High Priestly crown (Ex. 29:6; Zech. 6:11).

Deu 19:18 The judges shall make diligent inquisition, and if the witness is a false witness and has testified falsely against his brother-
I suggested on :16 that the case in view is when a false witness even has a false supporting witness. The "diligent inquisition" therefore required that one witness plus a supporting witness was not to enough to support a conviction. Further investigation and gathering of evidence was required. Again we note a strong sense of "innocent until proven guilty", and an awareness that a supporting witness might also be telling untruth.   

Deu 19:19 then you must do to him as he had thought to do to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you-
“The evil one” in the Old Testament was always “the evil man in Israel” (Dt. 17:12; 19:19; 22:21–24 cp. 1 Cor. 5:13) – never a superhuman being, not any personal, superhuman Satan. The evil was to be put away by judgment appropriate to what the false accuser had intended to be done to the falsely accused. As innocent blood was to be purged by guilty blood (:13). But for us, all such judgment has been met in the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus. Therefore the "eye for an eye" judgment of :21 is now to be replaced by our forgiveness of our slanderers, rather than seeking judgment and justice upon them. 

Deu 19:20 Those who remain shall hear and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil in the midst of you-
There is repeated emphasis that false accusation is an "evil" which must be removed. Pastoral leadership must take very seriously the practice of false accusation in church communities. And yet churches divide over and over because of this very issue of false accusation which isn't dealt with. The "eye for an eye" judgment hits home hard in this context- for typically the false accusation within churches is with a view to getting the falsely accused removed from the church. And on this basis, removal from the body of Christ is the judgment for those who do such things. Although it is not for us to seek to see that done; it is for us to forgive (see on :19).

Deu 19:21 Your eyes must not pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot-
See on :19. When the Lord Jesus gave His commandments as an elaboration of Moses' Law, that Law was still in force. He didn't say 'When I'm dead, this is how you should behave...'. He was showing us a higher level; but in the interim period until the Law was taken out of the way, He was opening up the choice of taking that higher level, even though making use of the concessions which Moses offered would not have been a sin during that period. Thus He spoke of not insisting on "an eye for an eye"; even though in certain cases the Law did allow for this. He was saying: 'You can keep Moses' Law, and take an eye for an eye. But there is a higher level: to simply forgive'.