LAWS CONCERNING CITIES OF REFUGE. LANDMARKS NOT TO
BE REMOVED. LAWS CONCERNING WITNESSES (vs. 1-21)
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
were to be set apart for this (Numbers 35:11-15; ch. 4:41-43), he here repeats the
law with special reference to the appointment of such cities “in the midst of the
land,” on the west
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.
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; 2 Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the
midst of thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
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
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; 21:22; ch. 2:27; I 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 – (Sinner, can not you see to what great pains God goes to to make
sure THAT YOU TOO, ARE SAFE!!!? – CY – 2012) - “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.”
4 “And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live:
Whoso killeth his neighbor ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;
5 As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbor to hew wood, and his
hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth
from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, that he die; he shall flee unto
one of those cities, and live: 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.
7 Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee.”
(Compare Numbers 35:11).
8 “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;
9 If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command
thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then
shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:” In case their
land should be extended, in case 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
were to add other three cities of refuge to those already appointed.
10 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.”
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.
The Cities of Refuge (vs. 1-10)
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
· 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 learned 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.”
· 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 self into the family, and
the family into the nation. Man must learn to act as part of A GREATER
· 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 weakened. What it gains in extension it loses in intensity.
Therefore checks and restraints are needed for immoderate family feeling.
· 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
· 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
and 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.
· 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 innocent 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
· RELIGION ENNOBLES AND BEAUTIFIES EVERY EARTHLY
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
11 “But if any man hate his neighbor, and lie in wait for him, and rise
up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into
one of these cities: 12 Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him
thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he
may die. 13 Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt
of innocent blood from
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 35:16-34). 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.
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 (ch.27:17; compare Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28; 23:10; Hosea 5:10).
Cities of Refuge (vs. 1-13)
The institution of cities of refuge (compare ch. 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 (v. 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 (vs. 4-5) and intentional
murder (ver. 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
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.
The Cities of Refuge as Types (vs. 1-13)
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;
· A VIVID PICTURE OF THE DANGER OF THE SINNER. In certain
points the contrast is stronger than the resemblance.
Ø 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 (v. 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.
Ø 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: for there is none other name under heaven given
among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
· 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 (vs.
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 SAVIOUR will not take him in. The guiltiest
and most redhanded may wash in his blood, and be cleansed from their
stains (I 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:
Ø In virtue of the offices He sustains.
Ø In virtue of the work He has accomplished.
Ø In virtue of the position He occupies — appearing in heaven in
the presence of God for us.
Ø 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 (ch. 5:1, 9-10;
* They “have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls
and bulwarks” (Isaiah 26:1).
· 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).
(Salvation is in the league of God providing air, water, and sunshine for
us all AND IT IS JUST AS FREE! CY – 2020) Faith includes
the three ideas of:
Ø believing in,
Ø accepting of, and
Ø 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.
· 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;
10:38-39). The conclusion of the whole is, the duty of availing ourselves
AT ONCE of THIS REFUGE “set before us” (ibid. ch. 6:18).
The Cities of Refuge (vs. 1-13)
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
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
THE CHILDREN OF
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.
· THIS ARRANGEMENT ABOUT THE CITIES OF REFUGE
SHOWED THAT THERE WAS
FOR AT LEAST SOME SINNERS UNDER THE LAW. The
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
· 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 (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:28-29).
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 (I John 1:6-7) –
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 a 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!
· 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.”
(Romans 12:19) 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
The Cities of Refuge (vs. 1-13)
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:
(Exodus 21; Numbers 25; Joshua 20) - 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
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
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
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
the nations among whom their fathers dwelt prior to going down into
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
Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and the mediaeval sanctuaries of
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 seen:
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.
Ø Moses recognizes the sacredness of human life, both to God and
Ø 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.
Ø 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 (v. 6; Numbers 35:24).
Ø A broad distinction is to be made between wrongs (Ibid. v.25).
Ø The examination of the case and the decision upon it were put into the
hands of the people through their elders and judges.
Ø The cities of refuge were selected where justice was most likely to be
done; even from the cities of the Levites.
Ø All this was doubly fenced from abuse. For:
o No murderer was to be screened (Ibid. v.31).
o 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.
Ø The reason is given in (Ibid. vs.33-34 – I think it a very fair question
to ask what the modern secular progressive thinks is meant by “the
land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, BUT
BY THE BLOOD OF HIM THAT SHED IT” – cy – 2012). 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.
ARE NOTEWORTHY. They are many:
Ø Outraged right requires vindication.
Ø In vindicating the right and avenging the wrong, equity and
kindness are to be studiously guarded. Grace is to reign through
Ø God, in His kindness, provides a refuge from the haste or excesses
of private revenge.
Ø 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 flee thither. And
there were sins for which it did not avail at all (see vs. 11-12, 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.
OF GOD WHICH ARE NOT FORESHADOWED IN THESE CITIES
Ø 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; 43:14; 44:24; 48:17; 54:5, 8;
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
and our GOEL. WE FLEE TO HIM, not FROM HIM!”
Ø 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.”
Lex Talionis (vs. 11-13)
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
· 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
· 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.
· 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.
(In this the government of the
in this duty, as millions and millions of children have been murdered
through abortion and nine judges and their successors’ actions cannot
detract from this malfeasance. Neither can a citizenry “that loves to have
it so” [Jeremiah 5:31] prevent accountibility. It will be handled at the
Judgment and although we recognize it not, is the root of many problems
faced by the
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.”
· 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.
14 “Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark, which they of old
time” - i.e. those of a former age (רִאשֹׁנִים - earlier ones, ancestors, predecessors).
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 Septuagint has here οἱ πατέρες – oi pateres - and the
Vulgate priores. That the law here given was uttered whilst Israel was yet outside
inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth
thee to possess it.”
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 (compare ch. 17:6; Numbers 35:30).
Removing the Landmark (v. 14)
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.
Caution against Fraud (v. 14)
Nothing that concerns man’s welfare and joy is beneath God’s care. The
vast extent of His kingdom hinders not His guardianship over every minute
interest of His creatures. Even landmarks, boundary stones, are under His
· 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 and the fullness
thereof, the world and THEY THAT DWELL THEREIN.” (Psalm 24:1)
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.
· 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.
· BOUNDARY LINES BETWEEN OUR OWN AND OTHER’S
POSSESSIONS ARE TO BE SCRUPULOUSLY RESPECTED.
(That is why we have deeds
recorded in the
CY – 2020) 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
dollar 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
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.”
The rule in ch.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.
16 “If a false witness rise up against any man 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 ch. 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 (hr;s;), though usually expressing apostasy from Jehovah, has properly
the general sense of a deflection from a prescribed course (from rWs, to go off,
to go aside), and so may describe any departure from what is constituted right.
17 “Then both the men,” – i.e. both parties at the bar - “between whom the
controversy is, 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
(ch. 17:9) - “before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness
be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;” –
19 “Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought” - The verb here used
(זָמַם) means generally to meditate, to have in mind, to purpose; but it
frequently has the sub-audition of meditating evil - “to have done unto
his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”
20 “And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth
commit no more any such evil among you.” (So much for the false
philosophy which claims that capital punishment is not a deterent to crimes!
THIS FLIES IN THE FACE OF AN ALMIGHTY GOD BECAUSE
THE MODERNIST TRIES TO REFUTE THE REVELATION OF GOD!
THIS IS A GREAT SIN! - CY – 2012)
21 “And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye,
tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” The lex talionis (a
punishment identical to the offense) was in this case to be observed
(compare Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:20). Practically, however, a
Pecuniary compensation might be accepted for the offence (cf. Josephus,
‘Antiq.,’ 4:8, 35).
The Law of Retaliation (vs. 14-21)
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
· 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 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· 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 but 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!
Bulwark against Perjury (vs. 15-21)
“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.
· 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 (hearsay
is not permissible in court) 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 (lie) 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.
· 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.
(Theoretically, this is true but various parties of men under mind this maxim –
CY – 2020) 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.
· 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 case 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
· 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.” (Psalm 7:15)
The gallows which Haman prepared for Mordecai, served for his own doom.
(The book of Esther) This is God’s law of retribution.
· THE END SOUGHT IN THIS JUDICIAL EXECUTION IS THE
PUBLIC GOOD. (Our Founding Fathers included this concept in the
United States Constitution with the words in the preamble, “to promote
the general welfare!” CY – 2020) The sacrifice of one life is intended to
bring advantage to the many. The moral effect is most precious, viz.:
Ø regard for righteousness and
Ø 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.”
False Witness (vs. 16-21)
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.
· FALSE WITNESS IS IN GOD’S SIGHT A GREAT EVIL.
1. It indicates great malevolence.
2. It is grievously unjust and injurious to the person wrongfully
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.
· 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 are:
1. Deliberate invention and circulation of falsehoods.
2. Innuendo, or suggestio falsi (suggestion of a false truth).
3. Suppression of essential circumstances — suppressio veri (concealment
of the truth.)
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.”
· 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
(v. 17). It was their part to make diligent inquisition, and, if the crime was
proved, to award punishment (vs. 18-19). The punishment was to be on
the principle of the lex talionis (the principle or law of retaliation that a
punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense
of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth - vs. 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.
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