True Justice

Deuteronomy 19

Jerry A Collins




v        What do cities of refuge tell us about how God views life?

v        Why are boundary markers important for justice?

v        What does more than one witness safeguard?


For some reason, I had a handful of guys who wanted to take out their aggression upon me. Jim Braden was a neighbor who would get off of my busstop even though it was several stops before his own just so he could chase me down the street and beat up on me if he could catch me. Gary Moore was another guy who would run out of his house and get on his bike and chase me up the road just to harass me whenever I rode by his house. One time I made it up the road until I got to Mrs. Campeau’s house, ran up to her porch, knocked frantically on the door and asked to come in because Gary was about to turn into the driveway and beat me up. Now understand how frantic I was, because we always tried to avoid Mrs. Campeau who always wanted someone to stop and see her—she was creepy but not on these occasions. I bring this up because the fear and threats resulted from life being treated cavalierly. God never meant for life to be threatened or jeopardized so lightly. He makes that clear in the stipulations given to Israel once they settled in the land of Promise. That is spelled out for us here.


This is illustrated for the nation by the cities of refuge God authorized throughout the land.

Safeguards 1-3 Moses already set aside three cities of refuge in the Transjordan 4:41-43. Now three more cities were to be set aside as safeguards within the land v 1-2. They were to be equally spaced throughout the land so they would be easily accessible for the manslayer to flee into v 3. This is not a murder mystery. We know who did the killing. The question is whether it was intentional or not. It was either murder or manslaughter. In either case due process was required and these cities of refuge gave time for this to take place. This is all in anticipation of the Lord giving the land to the Israelites that also required their doing battle for it v 1. This all has to do with what happens once they settle themselves in the land.

No revenge or retaliation 4-7 First, these cities were ‘set aside’ v 2 to prevent any further outrage from arising from a tragic situation like manslaughter or unintentional killing v4—this is repeated in v4 and 6. There has been no malice—hating him previously—it was an accident. The whole point was that the manslayer could flee and his life be spared from revenge or retaliation v4 and 5. This is repeated ‘may flee there and live’ and ‘he may flee to one of these cities and live’. His life is spared from the rage and anger of an avenger v6. An example of an unintentional killing is a mundane v5 as one’s ax-head flying off the handle hitting and killing a neighbor. Second, we know from Num 35:25-27, that the manslayer would have to stay in the city of refuge until the death of the current High Priest. During his stay, the Elders of the city were obligated to protect him from the avenger of blood Num 25:35. However, if the one guilty of manslaughter ventured out of the city beforehand the avenger could kill him ‘without being guilty of murder’ Num 35:27. Third, the ‘avenger of blood’ v 6 was the nearest relative of the one who was killed. The word is for a ‘family protector’ who was avenging the death of a relative Num 35:19-28. This avenger could become a murderer if in his anger and rage he pursued and overtook the manslayer on his way to the city of refuge v6.

Preventing murder 8-10 God was willing to make provision for three more cities of refuge once the land of Promise increased to it’s full borders v8 cp to v1, as Israel fully complied with God’s will for them v9. The whole law is in view here but emphasized with the fundamental requirement of the law—to love the Lord your God and walk in His ways always! So much of what God promises Israel hinges on the condition of their obedience to Him. And this includes the stipulations of justice thru the use of the cities of refuge. God will not tolerate revenge and retaliation and blood feuds amongst his people. Life is sacred and must be safeguarded against personal retaliation or revenge. The point is that no innocent blood is to be shed in the land or the nation v10. Ezekiel records the shedding of blood in Israel 9:9; 22:3-12; 23:37, 45; which eventually provoked God to judge the nation in the end. God even orders the death of any murderer 11-13 so that the sin of shedding blood was to be purged from the land v13. No murderer—one who deliberately takes revenge—could be spared in pitied in a city of refuge.  The nation could only prosper if it avenged innocent blood in the land. Now this process and these stipulations taught Israel how significant life was to God! It must be important to His people too. Even tho a man had killed his neighbor accidentally he still had to give up his freedom for an extended period of time. God was teaching the sacredness of life. It is not to be fooled with or ever taken lightly. (Picture of life taken in early USA)


Moving a neighbor’s boundary marker was the equivalent of stealing from them. The classic example of this is when Ahab and Jezebel moved Nabal’s boundary. Nabal claimed it was his own family’s ancestral plot. Here the owner of the land was exterminated. Job 24:2 refers to ‘some remove the landmarks’ indicating this problem in the land. Hosea 5:10; Prov 22:28; 23:10; Dt 27:17 all refer to this problem of moving boundary markers and stealing land. Since all property belongs to God and God has placed it where He has chosen to place it, don’t steal it. Don’t move the boundaries and also provoke your neighbor jeopardizing your relationships and life because of this conflict. Apparently this was a big issue. Life has been needlessly lost because of unresolved conflicts. Don’t put yourself in that kind of situation.


Inevitably there would be conflicts needing resolution justly. First, any legitimate conflict must be verified by more than one witness. There shall be two or three witnesses for inquiry into any crime v15. This is a safeguard against a false witness or another form of revenge or retaliation. Requiring more than one witness ensures better accuracy and objectivity in the deliberations. Second, if there is a case of only one witness v16-20, then judges were to investigate it thoroughly v18. If the accuser if proven false, a malicious witness v1 6 and a liar v18 he received the punishment he was looking for the accused. The point of all of this is true justice. A life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.  Third, this false witnesses punishment would serve as a deterrent against giving false testimony in the court. This violation of the ninth commandment was another evil that must be purged from the land v19. Justice not revenge must determine the outcome of resolving personal conflicts.1. Don’t make judgments about people because of what one person tells you. It could be gossip or legitimate concern. Either way, it requires a thorough investigation. 2. If accused person did what he did accidentally or as a mistake, without malice or hatred, with no previous record of conflict with that person. Then there should be no discipline action. 3. Justice and mercy also apply to the accused. If someone is accused of wrong doing, but it is not true, then the accused doing the accusing should be disciplined.