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The next group of laws in Deuteronomy is concerned with making sure people in Israel treat one another honestly and fairly. Safeguards are to be put in place to protect the lives and property of the innocent and to make sure the guilty are caught and punished. These will include the cities of refuge, property markers, and the court system. Each law in this group seeks specifically to prevent people from abusing or manipulating one these safeguards.

19 Moses: When the Eternal your God has destroyed the nations whose land He’s going to give you, when you’ve driven them out and have settled in their cities and are living in their houses, 2-3 then designate three cities of refuge for yourselves in the land He is giving you to live in. Divide your territory into three parts, locate one city centrally in each part, and measure the roads to each of them. That way a person who kills someone accidentally can escape to one of these cities and be safe from revenge.

This is the kind of person I’m talking about: someone who kills a friend unintentionally, when there was no grudge between them, such as when two friends go into the forest together to chop wood, and one of them swings an ax to cut a tree, and the ax head slips off the handle, hits his friend, and kills him. A person such as he can flee to one of these cities and be safe from revenge. Otherwise, if the distance to the nearest city of refuge is too great, one of the relatives of the friend who was killed is going to feel honor-bound to avenge the dead man’s blood, and he’ll catch up with him and kill him while he’s still furious about his relative’s death. This wouldn’t be right because the man slaughterer didn’t deserve the death sentence. There was no grudge between these friends—the death was accidental. That’s why I’m commanding you to designate these three cities for yourselves. 8-9 Now if you carefully obey the command I’m giving you today, to love the Eternal your God and always do as He wishes, then He will expand your territory as He promised your ancestors; He’ll give you all the land He told your ancestors He’d give them. If that happens, then designate three more cities for yourselves, besides the first three. 10 That way no innocent blood will be shed in the land He is giving you to live in, and as a nation you won’t have any bloodguilt just because a city of refuge was too far away.

11 But someone who does hate another person, who ambushes and kills that person can’t escape revenge by fleeing to one of these cities. 12 The elders of his city must send representatives to bring the killer back and turn him over to the blood-avenger, the relative of the murder victim who will kill him. 13 Don’t show any pity! You must remove the stain of innocent blood from Israel, so that everything will go well for you.

14 Don’t steal land from your neighbor by moving the boundary marker your ancestors put in place. Each person’s property is an inheritance from the Eternal, who’s giving you this land to live in.

These potential “property disputes” are a divine reflection. When you steal land from another person, you’re taking away what God has given—that’s like stealing from the Lord Himself!

15 The testimony of a single witness is not sufficient to convict a person of a crime or to find someone guilty of doing something wrong. Every charge must be confirmed by two or three witnesses.[a] 16 If one person accuses another of some crime, and you suspect it’s being done out of malice, 17 bring the two people involved into the Eternal’s presence at the sanctuary. Present their case to the priests and the judges who are serving on the tribunal at the time. 18 The judges will conduct a careful investigation. If it turns out that the witness was lying and accused the other Israelite maliciously, 19-21 then do to the witness exactly what he wanted done to the other person. Don’t show any pity! If he wanted the other person killed, then kill him; if he wanted his eye put out or a tooth knocked out or a hand or foot cut off, then do that to him.[b] This will expel the wicked from your own community. Everyone else will hear what happens and be afraid to do the same thing themselves, so none of you will ever do such an evil thing to each other again.

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)