Murderers and the refuge towns (Deut 19:1-19:13)

“When Yahweh your God cuts off the nations whose land Yahweh your God is giving you. After you have dispossessed them and settled in their towns and in their houses, you shall set apart three cities in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you to possess. You shall calculate the distances and divide into three regions the land which Yahweh your God is giving you as a possession, so that any murderer can flee to one of them.”

There were indications about these refuge towns mentioned in Exodus, chapter 21, and Numbers, chapter 35. In fact, at the beginning of this book, they explicitly name the three towns on the east side of the Jordan where they may flee to in chapter 4. Now they are talking about 3 more towns on the west side of the Jordan River.

“Now this is the case of a murderer that might flee there and live. That is someone who has killed another person unintentionally when the two had not been at enmity before. Suppose someone goes into the forest with another to cut wood. When one of them swings the axe to cut down a tree, the head slips from the handle and strikes the other person, who then dies. The killer may flee to one of these cities and live. But if the distance is too great, the avenger of blood in hot anger might pursue and overtake him. He might put the killer to death, although a death sentence was not deserved, since the two had not been at enmity before. Therefore I command you that you shall set apart three cities.”

The unintentional murder should have the right to flee to one of these 3 cities to await trial. However, the avenger of death can kill the murderer if he catches him before he gets to the refuge city.

“If Yahweh your God enlarges your territory, as he has sworn to your ancestors. He will give you all the land that he promised your ancestors to give you. That is provided you diligently observe this entire commandment that I command you today, by loving Yahweh your God and walking always in his ways. Then you shall add three more cities to these three, so that the blood of an innocent person may not be shed in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance, therefore bringing bloodguilt upon you.”

Yahweh wants you to have these 3 refuge cities so that innocent blood may not be shed. Once again, you have to love Yahweh, by walking in his ways and observing his commandments.

“But if someone at enmity with another lies in wait, attacks and takes the life of that person. Then afterwards flees into one of these cities, then the elders of the killer’s city shall send to have the culprit taken from there. He should be handed over to the avenger of blood to be put to death. Show no pity to him. You shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may go well with you.”

There is a clear difference between an unintentional death and premeditated murder. The intentional killer who was an enemy of the killed one shall not receive refuge in the refuge city, but be sent back to his original town. There the avenger of blood may put him to death.

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