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Cities of Safety

19 “The Lord your God is giving you land that belongs to other nations. The Lord your God will destroy those nations. You will live where these people lived. You will take their cities and their houses. When that happens, 2-3 you must divide the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Divide it into three parts and choose a city in the middle of each part that can be a place of safety. You must also build good roads to these cities. Then whoever kills another person may run to the closest city of safety.

“This is the rule for someone who kills another person and runs to one of these three cities for safety: It must be someone who killed another person accidentally, not out of hatred. Here is an example: A man goes into the forest with another person to cut wood. The man swings his ax to cut down a tree, but the head of the ax separates from the handle. The ax head hits the other person and kills him. The man who swung the ax may then run to one of these three cities and be safe. But if the city is too far away, he might not be able to run there fast enough. A close relative[a] of the person he killed might run after him and catch him before he reaches the city. The relative might kill the man in anger, even though he did not deserve to die because he did not mean to harm anyone. That is why I commanded you to choose three special cities.

“The Lord your God promised your fathers that he would make your land larger. He will give you all the land that he promised to give to your ancestors. He will do this if you completely obey his commands that I give you today—if you love the Lord your God and always live the way he wants. Then, when he gives you more land, you should choose three more cities for safety. They should be added to the first three cities. 10 Then innocent people will not be killed in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. And you will not be guilty for any such deaths.

11 “But suppose there is a man who hates his neighbor. That man might hide and wait to kill the person he hates. If he kills that person and runs to one of these cities of safety, 12 the elders in his hometown must send someone to get him and take him away from the city of safety. These leaders must hand him over to the close relative. He is a murderer and he must die. 13 Don’t feel sorry for him. He is guilty of killing an innocent person, and you must remove that guilt from Israel. Then everything will go well for you.

Property Lines

14 “You must not move the stones that mark your neighbor’s property. People put them there in the past to mark each person’s property. These stones mark the land that the Lord your God gave you.


15 “If someone is accused of doing something against the law, one witness is not enough to prove that the person is guilty. There must be two or three witnesses to prove that the person really did wrong.

16 “A witness might try to hurt another person by lying and saying that this person did wrong. 17 If that happens, both of them must go to the Lord’s special house and be judged by the priests and judges who are on duty at that time. 18 When the judges carefully ask their questions, they might find that the witness lied against the other person. If the witnesses tell lies, 19 you must punish them with the same punishment the other person would have received. In this way you will remove this evil from your group. 20 Other people will hear about this and be afraid, and people will not do evil things like that again.

21 “Don’t feel sorry about punishing someone who does wrong. If a life is taken, a life must be paid for it. The rule is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot—the punishment must equal the crime.


  1. Deuteronomy 19:6 close relative Literally, “avenger of blood.” When a person was killed, his relative had to be sure the killer was punished. Also in verse 12.

Cities of Refuge(A)

19 When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses,(B) then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood(C) might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities.

If the Lord your God enlarges your territory,(D) as he promised(E) on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him(F)—then you are to set aside three more cities. 10 Do this so that innocent blood(G) will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.(H)

11 But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbor,(I) and then flees to one of these cities, 12 the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die. 13 Show no pity.(J) You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood,(K) so that it may go well with you.

14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.(L)


15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.(M)

16 If a malicious witness(N) takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges(O) who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation,(P) and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party.(Q) You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid,(R) and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity:(S) life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.(T)