Deuteronomy 17-20 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
Use Only Good Animals for Sacrifices
17 “You must not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or sheep that has anything wrong with it. The Lord your God would hate that.
Punishment for Worshiping Idols
2 “You might hear about an evil thing that happens in one of the cities that the Lord your God is giving you. You might hear that a man or woman in your group has sinned against the Lord your God. You might hear that they have broken his agreement or 3 that they have worshiped other gods or maybe the sun, the moon or the stars. I never told you to do that! 4 If you hear bad news like this, you must check it carefully. You must learn if it is true that this terrible thing has really happened in Israel. If you prove that it is true, 5 you must punish the person who did this evil thing. You must take that man or woman out to a public place near the city gates and kill them with stones. 6 But no one should be punished with death if only one witness says that person did that evil thing. But if two or three witnesses say it is true, the person must be killed. 7 The witnesses must throw the first stones to kill that person. Then the other people should throw stones to finish killing that person. In this way you will remove this evil from your group.
Difficult Court Decisions
8 “There might be some problems that are too hard for your courts to judge. It might be a murder case or an argument between two people. Or it might be a fight in which someone was hurt. When these cases are argued in your towns, your judges there might not be able to decide what is right. Then you must go to the special place that the Lord your God will choose. 9 You must go to the priests who are Levites and to the judge on duty at that time. They will decide what to do about that problem. 10 There at the Lord’s special place they will tell you their decision. You must do whatever they say. Be sure to do everything they tell you to do. 11 You must accept their decision and follow their instructions exactly—don’t change anything!
12 “You must punish anyone who refuses to obey the judge or the priest who is there at that time serving the Lord your God. That person must die. You must remove this evil person from Israel. 13 All the people will hear about this punishment and be afraid. Then they will not be stubborn anymore.
How to Choose a King
14 “You will enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You will take that land and live in it. Then you will say, ‘We will put a king over us, like all the nations around us.’ 15 When that happens, you must be sure to choose the king that the Lord your God chooses. The king over you must be one of your own people. You must not make a foreigner your king. 16 The king must not get more and more horses for himself. And he must not send people to Egypt to get more horses, because the Lord has told you, ‘You must never go back that way.’ 17 Also, the king must not have too many wives, because that will make him turn away from the Lord. And he must not make himself rich with silver and gold.
18 “When the king begins to rule, he must write a copy of the law for himself in a book. He must make that copy from the books that the priests from the tribe of Levi keep. 19 He must keep that book with him and read from it all his life, because he must learn to respect the Lord his God. He must learn to completely obey everything the law commands. 20 Then the king will not think that he is better than any of his own people. He will not turn away from the law, but he will follow it exactly. Then he and his descendants will rule the kingdom of Israel a long time.
Supporting the Priests and Levites
18 “The tribe of Levi will not get any share of land in Israel. The priests come from that tribe and they will eat the special sacrifices that are offered as gifts to the Lord. That is the share for the people from the tribe of Levi. 2 The tribe of Levi will not get any share of land like the other tribes. Their share is the Lord himself, as he said to them.
3 “When you kill one of your sheep or cattle for a sacrifice, you must give the priests these parts: the shoulder, both cheeks, and the stomach. 4 You must give the priests the first part of your harvest. You must give them the first part of your grain, your new wine, and your oil. You must give the Levites the first wool cut from your sheep. 5 This is because the Lord your God looked at all your tribes and chose Levi and his descendants to serve him as priests forever.
6 “Any Levite living in any town anywhere in Israel may leave his home and come to the Lord’s special place. He may do this anytime he wants. 7 And this Levite may serve in the name of the Lord his God, the same as all his brother Levites who are on duty before the Lord. 8 And that Levite will get an equal share with the other Levites, in addition to the share his family normally gets.[a]
Israel Must Not Live Like Other Nations
9 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, don’t learn to do the terrible things the people of the other nations there do. 10 Don’t sacrifice your sons or daughters in the fires on your altars. Don’t try to learn what will happen in the future by talking to a fortuneteller or by going to a magician, a witch, or a sorcerer. 11 Don’t let anyone try to put magic spells on other people. Don’t let any of your people become a medium or a wizard. And no one should try to talk with someone who has died. 12 The Lord hates anyone who does these things. And because these other nations do these terrible things, the Lord your God will force them out of the land as you enter it. 13 You must be faithful to the Lord your God, never doing anything he considers wrong.
The Lord’s Special Prophet
14 “You will force the other nations out of your land. They listen to people who use magic and try to tell the future. But the Lord your God will not let you do these things. 15 The Lord your God will send to you a prophet. This prophet will come from among your own people, and he will be like me. You must listen to him. 16 God will send you this prophet because that is what you asked him to do. When you were gathered together at Mount Horeb, you became frightened and said, ‘Don’t let us hear the voice of the Lord our God again! Don’t let us see that great fire or we will die!’
17 “The Lord said to me, ‘What they ask for is good. 18 I will send them a prophet like you. This prophet will be one of their own people. I will tell him what he must say, and he will tell the people everything I command. 19 This prophet will speak for me, and I will punish anyone who refuses to listen to my commands.’
How to Know False Prophets
20 “But a prophet might say something that I did not tell him to say. And he might tell people that he is speaking for me. If this happens, that prophet must be killed. Also a prophet might come that speaks for other gods. That prophet must also be killed. 21 You might be thinking, ‘How can we know if something a prophet says is not from the Lord?’ 22 If a prophet says he is speaking for the Lord, but what he says does not happen, you will know that the Lord did not say it. You will know that this prophet was speaking his own ideas. You don’t need to be afraid of him.
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.
4 “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. 5 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. 6 But if the city is too far away, he might not be able to run there fast enough. A close relative[b] 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. 7 That is why I commanded you to choose three special cities.
8 “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. 9 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.
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.
Rules for War
20 “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and you see horses, chariots, and many more people than you have, you must not be afraid of them. The Lord your God is with you—and he brought you out of Egypt.
2 “When you go to the battle, the priest must go to the soldiers and speak to them. 3 The priest will say, ‘Men of Israel, listen to me! Today you are going against your enemies in battle. Don’t lose your courage. Don’t be troubled or upset. Don’t be afraid of the enemy. 4 The Lord your God is going with you to help you fight against your enemies. He will help you win!’
5 “The Levite officials will say to the soldiers, ‘Is there any man here who has built a new house but has not yet dedicated it? That man should go back home. He might be killed in the battle, and then another person will dedicate that man’s house. 6 Is there any man here who has planted a vineyard but has not yet gathered any of the grapes? That man should go back home. If that man dies in the battle, someone else will enjoy the fruit from his field. 7 Is there any man here who is engaged to be married? That man should go back home. If he dies in the battle, another man will marry the woman he is engaged to.’
8 “These Levite officials must also say to the people, ‘Is there any man here who has lost his courage and is afraid? He should go back home. Then he will not cause the other soldiers to lose their courage too.’ 9 Then, after the officers have finished speaking to the army, they must choose captains to lead the soldiers.
10 “When you go to attack a city, you must first offer peace to the people there. 11 If they accept your offer and open their gates, all the people in that city will become your slaves and be forced to work for you. 12 But if the city refuses to make peace with you and fights against you, you should surround the city. 13 And when the Lord your God lets you take the city, you must kill all the men in it. 14 But you may take for yourselves the women, the children, the cattle, and everything else in the city. You may use all these things. The Lord your God has given these things to you. 15 That is what you must do to all the cities that are very far from you—the cities that are not in the land where you will live.
16 “But when you take cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must kill everyone. 17 You must completely destroy all the people—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The Lord your God has commanded you to do this. 18 So then they will not be able to teach you to sin against the Lord your God or to do any of the terrible things they do when they worship their gods.
19 “When you are making war against a city, you might surround that city for a long time. You must not cut down the fruit trees around that city. You may eat the fruit from these trees, but you must not cut them down. These trees are not the enemy, so don’t make war against them. 20 But you may cut down the trees that you know are not fruit trees. You may use these trees to build weapons for making war against that city. You may use them until the city falls.