Total Pageviews

Friday, January 23, 2015

Rightness and Purity Before God Deuteronomy 21


     The last few chapters of Deuteronomy we have studied appear to be comprised of small laws from God when compared to the grandness of the Ten Commandments. Last week Moses taught them what God commanded them to do when fighting Canaanite and non-Canaanite nations – what to do with captives, when to offer peace, and which trees to cut down. This week as we read Deuteronomy 21 we read primarily of laws about family, but it includes what do to with dead bodies, too. The opening and closing statutes about what to do with bodies highlights and sandwiches the theme of the whole chapter – how to be right and by that, pure before God.

The writing structure of this chapter is semi-chiastic; the beginning and end of the chapter are similar and sandwich the middle topics. In this chapter, the beginning and end statutes relate how to be pure before God and not accursed by Him. The middle three sections of the chapter give statutes on how the purity is lived out daily regarding family situations. With this brief introduction, let us now jump into our study.

Doing Right in the Eyes of the LORD


     Moses used a common Deuteronomic technique when writing this chapter. He used if…then statements. This method is effective when dealing with matters of law and judgment. Upon first reading of the first nine verses of the chapter, the first reaction is why is a teaching about a slain person put into this chapter dealing with family issues. Upon reading the whole chapter, we realize the theme of the chapter is within the first section of the chapter, verses one to nine. Verse 9 says, “So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst when you do what is right in the eyes of the LORD.” Doing what is right in God’s eyes is what makes a person or nation righteous and pure. This denotes a person or nation as obedient children of God. As we read the other four sections of this chapter, we must keep this theme in mind. God was teaching the Israelites through Moses by saying that keeping His laws and statutes would keep them pure. By this, they would be His children.


Verses 1-9 teach about how to respond to finding a slain person in the open country. Verses 1-2  say,

If a slain person is found lying in the open country in the land which the LORD your God gives you to possess and it is not known who struck him, then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance to the cities which are around the slain one.

This passage states the murderer is unknown. It seems the slain person may be unknown, too, since they are not going to the slain person’s town/city. What is second most important in this passage is that God’s statute about this concerns social and religious areas of life. The judges would want to determine who killed the person so they could give judgment. God’s main concern is keeping the land/nation pure. For this reason, God wants to determine which town/city is closest to the slain person so they can re-establish the purity and innocence of the land/nation.


To understand why finding a dead person in the nation is significant to God, we must realize that killing a person, shedding blood, makes a person and, by association, the nation guilty of murder. God holds life sacred. He created humankind and said it was good. He chooses to have relationship with people because He loves them. God provided a way for people to return to a relationship with Him – in the Old Testament through religious laws and in the New Testament through Jesus Christ. In the Ten Commandments, He said, “You shall not kill.” These show God holds human life sacred. With this consideration, killing a person is rebellion against God. Hence, when a slain body is found, blood guilt attaches to the person who committed it and the nation in which the guilty person lives. So a right relationship with God must be restored for the people/nation.

God taught in this chapter the way the people of Israel were to cleanse themselves from bloodguiltiness and become right and pure in God’s eyes. Moses recorded it in Numbers 35:33-34 when he taught,

You shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel. [NASB]

Because God was the God and ruler of Israel (remember, Israel was a theocracy) and lived among them, the land/nation must not be polluted with blood, the sin and guilt of murder, for God to continue to live amidst them. For God to live among the people again, cleansing to remove their sin and guilt must occur.

The elders of the nearest town/city to the slain person must take an “unworked heifer” to an “unworked field” that has running water and break its neck there (vs. 3-4). They offered an unblemished cow as a substitute for their sin (by association) penalty. Notice God’s command told the elders to break the cow’s neck, not cut the it’s throat. Blood of the slain person spilled on the ground now a pure life must be offered without blood to atone for and cleanse the land/nation.

One of things to notice is that the water to which Moses commanded them to take the cow had to be running water. In Hebrew this running water is a perpetual, ever-flowing stream. The Bible writers and people since that time often compared God’s love and mercy to a cleansing flood or tide. Floods and tides are ever-flowing. They wipe away what was there before like the blood of sacrifices – animals in the Old Testament and Jesus’ in the New Testament – wash away the sins of people.

When the elders broke the neck of the heifer, the priests (kohen – priest and chief ruler), whom God chose to serve Him and bless the people in His name, came to settle the judicial matter of the murder (vs. 5). They administered God’s applicable law and His justice for the people involved and the nation. Each party was absolved of their sin and resultant bloodguiltiness. After God’s law, God purified them once again. As the spokesmen of God, what they said was law and when done, provided God’s blessing on the people. God’s law told the elders of the nearest city to “wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley” (vs. 6). While doing this, the elders proclaimed their innocence, asked for forgiveness of the people by the LORD, and asked God to remove the blood guilt from them (vs. 7-8). This enacted the washing of the blood of the slain from their hands and the guilt from their hearts and minds. It signified God’s washing of the bloodguilt and sin from them. This gave them God’s blessing and God would live among them again.

As stated earlier, the most important part of the whole chapter is the thematic sentence in verse nine. It says when you do what is right in the eyes of the LORD you will remove your guilt of innocent blood, bloodguiltiness, from yourself and your midst (land/nation). Deuteronomy 19:10-13 speaks of blood guilt of the innocent when it says, “You shall not pity him, but you shall purge the blood of the innocent from Israel, that it may go well with you.” God wants His people and land to be innocent from crimes such as murder. He told the Israelites in chapter nineteen to remove the bloodguilt from them by putting to death the premeditated murderer. In this chapter, when the murderer is unknown, God provided a way to remove bloodguilt through substitute sacrifice. This became a prelude to the substitute sacrifice of Jesus, God’s Son, on the cross for the sins of humankind.

Domestic Relations

God required His people, the Israelites, to be pure and righteous. They did this by obeying His laws, statutes, and judgments as Moses taught them. As the leader and God of Israel, He lived among them. For God to stay in their presence, the Israelites had to be pure/sinless. The next three lessons in this chapter deal with following God’s laws in family matters. They use the Deuteronomic writing style of “if…then” for teaching the Israelites.

Captive Woman.

Beautiful, Non-Canaanite.

Verses 10-14 address the desire of a soldier to marry a captive woman. It teaches how he was to treat her after her first month’s stay in her room at his home should he or she not wants to marry. Remember, God allowed the Israelite soldiers to take captive from battle just women and children who were not Canaanites, not men. He told the Israelites to destroy every Canaanite as His judgment against them.

When an Israelite soldier captured a beautiful, non-Canaanite woman and desired her, he could make her his wife. This is not as crude as people in the past portrayed it. The English word “desire” used in verse eleven is the Hebrew word chashaq. It means to love, be attached to, or long for. After battles, soldiers of many centuries took the spoils of war and often that meant taking the virginity of women. Moses told them if the man truly loved the woman he desired, he would be honorable and generous toward her and not treat her as a prostitute. God provided a way for the soldier to stay pure physically (no rape) and spiritually (marrying a woman of the same faith) with this law.

Requirements Before Marriage.

Verses 12-13 tell us what the soldier and captive woman must do. The soldier was to take her to his home. After that, she must shave her head, trim her nails, remove her clothes of captivity, stay in his home, and mourn her father and mother a full month. After this month God allowed the soldier to marry the woman.

When an Israelite man prepared to marry an Israelite woman, the father of the man would meet with the father of the woman and make a marriage match. Gifts would be exchanged from the father of the bride to the father of the groom, from the groom to the bride, and from the father of the bride to his daughter. For the next year, the bride-to-be would spend time preparing herself for her wedding. These preparations included pampering her skin with special baths, oils, scents, and body art including on her fingers and hands. It included, too, the mental preparation of leaving her birth home to become part of another family, which could include mourning. After the groom prepared a marriage room for he and her to live in for the first week of their marriage, he would steal away one night to the bride’s home and the wedding would begin.

The month’s delay of marrying a captive woman included these preparations, but it also included her decision about following Yahweh or not. Each of the actions God required her to do had a three-fold purpose – to mourn her loss, to decide if she would renounce idolatry and follow Yahweh, and to make herself less appealing to the soldier. The latter would help him determine if he really loved and wanted to marry her. When she shaved her head, she did it in mourning for her loss  - of her home, family, and country. The cleansing ritual is found in Leviticus 14:8-9 and Numbers 6:9, too. If she was to follow Yahweh, she must cleanse herself from following false gods and idols. The word “trim” in verse twelve comes from the Hebrew word ‘asah and means to deal with. She was to ignore her nails during the month of waiting, not cut, color, or beautify them in any way. When Moses said she was to remove her clothes of captivity, that meant she was not to wear the clothes in which the soldier found her beautiful, but to put them off and wear something less appealing to the eye. Each of these things are what people did in mourning. She did them, too, to recant following her gods and idols and to humble and purify herself before Yahweh. Added to this, wearing ugly clothes, shaving her head, and not beautifying her nails could make her unattractive to the soldier. If after a month the captive woman still attracted the heart of the soldier and she followed Yahweh God, then the soldier could go into her room and marry her (“go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife” vs. 13d).

Rights of the Captive.

We must remember God gave laws regarding taking care of aliens/foreigners, orphans, widows, and the poor in Deuteronomy 14:22-15:22. His law about aliens in Israel did not change when someone was an unwilling captive foreigner in Israel. Verse 14 explains God’s care for each person and tells the rights the captive woman had if the soldier did not marry her.

Verse 14 says, “It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes, but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.” If after the month the man no longer desired and loved her, God said he must free her. He could not keep or sell her as a slave. God told the soldiers they must not mistreat their captive women. The word “mistreat” comes from the Hebrew word ‘amar and means to treat tyrannically or treat as a slave.

People try to understand why God gave the laws and statutes He did. Sometimes they are ration-able/reason-able and sometimes not. God gave this law because He cared about the women and how the Israelites would treat them if they chose not to marry them. The soldiers humbled the captive women by defeating their country and taking them captive. By intending to marry her, the woman would have lost status with the people of her country. Added to this, her reputation would be lost because the people who knew of her captivity with the soldier may have thought she already slept with him. Finally, her prospects for the future dimmed when she did not marry the soldier. Her life would be very hard if she was someone’s slave. God cares about each person. Paul reiterated God’s perception of everyone as equal in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither slave nor free, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.”

Firstborn Inheritance.

Notice this section of the chapter uses the “if…then” Deuteronomic style as the first two did. In this section, God dealt with the right of inheritance. God gave no law about inheritance before this statute. Issues of inheritance arose before this such as in the life of Jacob and Esau. The secondary point of this section is the rights of children of an unloved wife. Overall, God gave this law to provide social order. If a father did not follow it, his disobedience to the law affected his spiritual life, as well as that of his family, and, in the end, Israel.

The law, in verses fifteen through seventeen, said the firstborn son of a father, whether of a loved or unloved wife, must receive a double portion of everything the father has. The right of the firstborn son to receive this was due to this son being the beginning of the man’s family, his strength. Because of this, the firstborn son must receive the father’s authority to lead the family when the father is no longer able.

The issue of multiple wives is not as complex as it would appear. God did not give the Israelites permission to have more than one wife. Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Matthew 19:3-6 recalls the Genesis creation account (Gen. 1:27 and 2:24) saying the two shall become one flesh, not more than two. Further, the tenth commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” (Exodus 20:12) presupposing one wife. Paul forbade church elders to be the husband of more than one wife. Remember, in the Bible, polygamy started with Cain, the murderer, not Seth the one from whose line Noah, Moses, David, and Jesus (Genesis 5) descended. Added to this, God forbade the kings of Israel to be polygamous (Deuteronomy 17:17). Hence God did not approve of it, but tolerated it. Under Mosaic law in Exodus 21:10, the LORD said, “If he takes another wife for himself…” God did not encourage polygamy. Knowing the hearts of men, though, He felt it necessary to guard the birthright of the firstborn son even if the mother of this son was unloved. God instituted this law for the firstborn son to protect children, just as He instituted the law for the captive woman in the earlier section to protect captives. Both groups of people had low status during this time.

Stubborn and Rebellious Son.

     This law is one of the hard sayings of God. Once again, the issue was being right in the eyes of God, as stated in verse nine. By being right with God - following/obeying God - the people were pure and God could live among them. In this section about domestic relations, a very difficult situation arises, a stubborn and rebellious child. I am sure parents of every generation either heard about or had this type of child.

Moses taught the Israelites to teach their children Yahweh’s laws when they rise up, lay down, go out, and come in (Deuteronomy 6:7 and 11:19). He taught with the fifth commandment that children were to obey their parents. This is the first commandment that carried a promise with it – to have a prolonged life. With a promise, a curse is implied, the same curse the Israelites received from God if they did not keep (shamar – hear, listen, and obey) His laws. Moses taught, too, what to do about a person who goes astray from God’s laws and statutes – the local Levites or the priests would offer judgment on the situation. God intended His laws to apply to people of every age in Israel, even children.

When the teaching and the discipline of the parents was inadequate to keep a child from being disobedient so he or she became stubborn and rebellious, God provided the statute to deal with this recalcitrant child. Moses used an “if…then” statement again to show this was a law and a person always had two choices – obey or disobey – with two resultant outcomes – promise or curse. In verses 18-19, Moses said,

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. [NASB]

First off, the word “stubborn” is the Hebrew word carar and means to rebel or have a dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or mind about something even if a good reason is given to do so. The stubborn child spoken of in this passage dug his feet in the ground and became immovable by force or reason. The word “rebellious” in the Hebrew is marah and means contentious and resisting authority or control. This child is one who will do what he wants to do when he wants to do it without considering the consequences to himself or other people.

The parents of this child, according to verse eighteen, disciplined and chastised him, but the child chose to disobey. The parents were the source of first training and disciplining. God gave the parents the charge to raise children in the knowledge of Him and His laws. Yet, as in society like adults choose to disobey God, children choose to disobey their parents without shame and repeatedly in the face of chastisement and discipline. Just as the elders and Levites of a town/city and the priests of the temple heard crimes and administered justice to adults based on the laws of God, sometimes these same leaders had to administer justice to recalcitrant children. A deep-seated rebellion existed in this child, one of continuing hatred. God commanded the elders handle this rebellion and hatred. He required the elders judge this stubborn and rebellious child, but not as the parents dealt with the minor infractions of defiance. By being so rebellious, the child broke the fifth commandment. Disobedience to parents is disobedience to God. When a child was this disobedient and rebellious, the parents needed a higher level of authority to help their rebellious and stubborn child. God provided that higher level of authority, wisdom, and judgment. God intended His laws to provide a peaceful society along with righteousness and purity for the people.

Verse 20 tells of the recourse the parents had for such a child. Together, mother and father could bring the child before the elders of the town/city. Notice the unity of the parents. If just one parent brought the child, the elders could have seen it as a spat or difference of opinion between the child and parent. When two parents brought the child in a united effort before the elders, the wise elders saw a definite recalcitrant child stood before them. This corresponds to earlier chapters (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15) where more than one witness was necessary to bring a person before the judges and priests. The witnesses (parents) must tell the elders why they brought their son to them – stubbornness, rebelliousness, disobedience, gluttony, and drunkenness. These things would tear a family and nation apart. Remember, the fifth commandment came with a promise and curse. The elders, since they lived in the same town as the child and parents, saw for themselves the difficulty these parents had in raising their child. As God’s appointed leaders, they must determine the situation with the child to determine God’s requirement for the child -  to either discipline and bring the child back into obedience or administer the curse due disobedience - death. Because the sin was continuous and deep-seated and might cause harm to the family or others in the community, God provided punishment be delivered. God designed the punishment to protect the family, society, and nation by purging evil. The punishment provided a deterrent to future rebellion, too.

The punishment, as declared by God for such an evil person, was death by stoning (vs. 21). The leaders of Israel issued a judgment of stoning for people who followed other gods (Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 13:11), followed a medium or spiritist (Leviticus 20:27), purposely killed another person (Leviticus 17:17-23), or who cursed and blasphemed God (Leviticus 24:14-16). In stoning such a person, Moses told them they removed the evil (ra’ – bad, malignant, vicious) from among them. Stoning the evil person supported the authority of God, the elders of Israel, and the parents. God showed strict punishment when he allowed the northern and southern kingdoms to be conquered because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. This punishment for the stubborn and rebellious child was for the same type of thing – to remove evil before it harms other people or becomes a cancer that spreads in the nation. The other part of this statute commanded the elders enforce this judgment and begin the stoning. Added to this, God commanded they send a notice throughout the nation explaining what occurred and the judgment declared to frighten others from being disobedient to their parents, leaders, and God.

Death: The Curse and Purity

Just as God commanded the stoning of a person to remove evil and restore purity, He sought to keep or re-establish Israel’s purity when a person died (vs. 1-9) or they received death and hanging as a judgment (vs. 22-23). The last two verses of this chapter deal with death once again, but with a small difference and a new teaching.

The Curse of Hanging on a Tree.

God commanded Moses to teach the Israelites about a criminal hanged to death for his or her crimes. He said in verses 22-23,

If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance. [NASB]

In these two verses, God established the basis for the curse of the cross. People over the years have tried to understand why God would curse death by hanging on wood, timber, or a tree. The most popular position considers both the first sin and Christ’s death. In the first sin, Adam and Eve ate from the tree of good and evil. God judged them. He declared they were no longer free from death, but would suffer from that curse. From this, people have reckoned trees are cursed by God, too. In addition, they reason that since Christ died on a cross made of wood, God once again cursed trees. These explanations are reasonable. The greatest reason, though, that God cursed hanging on a tree is that God said so.

Cleanliness Laws.

What does a tree being cursed by God have to do with removing a corpse before sunset? Why does God tell the Israelites to remove the corpse from the tree on the day they hanged the person? He said it was so the land would not be defiled. To understand this, we must go back to the cleanliness laws of the Old Testament. If a person touched or was near a dead person, that person was ritually unclean until they performed purification rites over a seven day period (Numbers 19:11-14). If a person did not purify him or herself before entering God’s presence in the tabernacle or temple, the tabernacle/temple became defiled, God could not be among them, and that person was cut off from Israel. The corpse was unclean and God cursed the tree, but why was it important to remove the body from the tree before the day ended?

Curse on the Nation.

     The priests’ administered God’s judgment on the people for their disobedience. When the judgment was death, people around the dead body became defiled. The tree with a body hanging on it was accursed by God. By leaving the dead body hanging on the tree overnight, an abuse of the body occurred. Judgment was fully meted out when they person suffered and died. No further justice could be administered since the person was dead. With the body continuing to hang on the tree, judgment continued, which was unnecessary, and it cursed the land in which the tree stood. So removing the body began the cleansing process and removed the curse from the land/nation. Remember from the first section of this chapter, killing a person carried with it bloodguiltiness even if mandated by God’s command and justice. The Israelites would want to remove the blood guilt from themselves and their nation sooner rather than later. God wanted them not to defile the land He gave them (vs. 23d).


Through these five sections of chapter twenty one we read of God’s laws and His concern for the purity of Israel. He wanted to ensure the purity of His people so He could be amidst them. God is pure and cannot be in the presence of sin. To provide social and moral standards, God gave His commands, laws, and statutes to the Israelites to obey. These same commands, laws, and statutes He intended to keep the people right - sinless and pure. For the parts of life that people thought were small, God showed He cared. He gave statutes for the people to follow in every part of life to help weed out evil from the people, such as the law about the rebellious son. He provided the laws about captive women and the rights of the firstborn’s inheritance to keep one’s affections from leading them into trouble. Overall, God’s commands are to keep people pure so they could stay in a relationship with Him.


What does this mean for us now? Primarily, we need to realize the great necessity of being in a relationship with God. God created humankind to be in a love relationship with Him. In Ephesians 1:4, Paul said, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” Besides this, John said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Relationship with God is very important to God and should be important to each of us. Not only does it give unending love, but peace, joy, and hope. This is why the purity of people is so important to God.

If the whole chapter deals with being right in God’s eyes and being pure so we can be in His presence, what do the middle three sections have to do with this? First, God gave the commands and when you obey them, you are right in His eyes. That means you are pure and can be in His presence. Remember God cannot be in the presence of sin, so doing what is right in God’s eyes made the Israelites pure and able to be with God. As to each section, God cares for each person even if he or she is a captive, foreigner, a child, an unloved spouse, or a disobedient child. He used these people as instances of the people most overlooked in society. Since God cared enough to make a statute about and for them, He cares enough to love everyone. He tried to ingrain this in the Israelites’ minds.

They, like many of us today, look down on people still. We read in the Bible many times where people did not take care of the captives, foreigners, children, unloved ones, and the impure. When Jesus lived on earth, many people looked at Him and treated Him badly. They made Him a captive. People treated Him as a disobedient and unloved person. Jesus did things they disagreed with and said were unlawful. These people made Him a captive and mistreated Him.

Jesus knew how it felt to be treated as the lowest in the world. He came into the world to reconcile everyone to God. The Israelites did not keep God’s laws and continually rebelled against Him. He knew they would sin, just as Adam and Eve did. Sin is now a part of human nature because of Adam and Eve’s sin. God never intended His laws to save the Israelites from their sins. He gave His laws to lead them to Him. God’s plan always was to bring eternal reconciliation to Him through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “He did not come into the world abolish the law, but to fulfill it,” (Matthew 5:17). This means He came to make it complete and perfect so that there is a new and better way to be reconciled with God.

Jesus’ forgiveness and redemption is not just for Jews. Paul to the Ephesians and later readers about God’s love. In Ephesians 1:5, he said, “He [God] predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” God loves each of us. He loved us before He formed us. His love brought us adoption into His family through His Son, Jesus Christ. The writer of Romans said in verse 16-17, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirits that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Paul reiterated what Old Testament writers wrote and told the Israelites (2 Samuel 7:14, 1 Chronicles 17:13, Isaiah 43:6) so that each believer in Jesus Christ would hear and know for themselves they are children of God. He said in 2 Corinthians 6:18, “And I will be a father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.”


We must each decide for ourselves today who God is for us. We must decide who Jesus is for us. Have we chosen to exercise our free-will and disobey God - be rebellious, and stubborn? Or have we chosen to accept the love God wants to give us? A theocracy no longer exists. Each person must decide for him or herself who or what will be god for them. God chose us from before He formed us in our mother’s womb to be loved by Him. He made a way for each person to return to Him through the mercy He gave when His Son, Jesus Christ, hanged and died on the wooden cross. By this cursed method of death and with Jesus’ sinless life, God offered the perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for each of our sins. People of the first century mistreated Jesus, and hated and beat Him. When He did nothing to deserve the curse of death, the sin penalty of death, people killed Him. Jesus chose to die so you and I would not have to die the penalty for our sins. To receive this great love and be reconciled with God, our Creator and Father, confess your sins/wrongdoings to Him and profess Jesus is the Son of God and Lord/Master of your life. God will forgive you for each of your past and future sins. You can live with Him forever – on earth and in heaven.

Each person must make this decision for him or herself.

What will you decide?

Monday, January 12, 2015

God and Warfare Deuteronomy 20

Deuteronomy 20


            God and the word “warfare” appear incongruous as part of the same topic. People for millennia have wrestled with the thought of a loving God allowing and even promoting warfare. “How can a God who loves humankind enough to have created everyone, promote and condone war?” people ask. Deuteronomy 20:1 speaks of the Israelites going to battle against enemies while having God’s presence with them. This assumes that God was a part of, if not condoning, warfare. We must understand this idea before we can study Deuteronomy 20. We must understand what makes a person or nation an enemy of Israel and why the LORD would be with them as if He condoned it.



                What did Moses and God mean by the word “enemies?” The Hebrew word used for the English word “enemies” in Deuteronomy 20:1 is ‘ayab. The literal interpretation of ‘ayab is to be hostile or to be an enemy. Today we might understand an enemy as being someone who is against or actively opposes another person, what that person wants, or what the person tries to do. This definition describes what an enemy of Israel was, too. Since Israel was a theocracy, a nation created and directly led by God, an enemy of Israel was an enemy of God.

Just because God led the theocracy of Israel does not mean the people of Israel were always righteous like God is righteous. Repeatedly the Israelites rebelled against God and were unfaithful to their covenant with Him. This made them enemies of God just as the people who were enemies of Israel were enemies of God. However, God’s mercy prevented Him from destroying Israel, though He judged and punished them. Added to this, for seven hundred years God sent prophets and judges to call the Israelites to return to Him. They did often repent and return to God, but in due time God exacted judgment on them and sent the Assyrians to overthrow the northern kingdom, Israel, and make them slaves. About one hundred seventy years after that, God judged the southern kingdom, Judah, and sent the Babylonians to overtake and disperse them around the Babylonian empire.

The Bible says everyone has sinned against God and gone his or her own way. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That makes each person an enemy of God. Does that mean God sends armies against us to annihilate us or disperse us among the nations? Not directly. He disciplines and judge us individually. Whether the discipline comes while we live on earth or judgment at God’s judgment seat, which comes at the end of time, that is God’s decision. Judgment will come; God decides when.


To take this further, actions against God’s people, Israel, were actions against God because Israel was a theocracy. So when God commanded the Israelites to put the Canaanites under the law of the ban (“utterly destroy” them) in Deuteronomy 7 and 20, He commanded them to destroy/annihilate them. Because Israel was a theocracy, God directly ruled them. When God commanded the annihilation of the Canaanites, the Canaanites’ destruction was His judgment against them (Exodus 23:27-30, Deuteronomy 7:3-6, and Joshua 8:24-26). They did evil in Yahweh’s sight for the forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness even though they saw the power, might, and reality of Yahweh in the Israelites’ lives. Noah cursed the Canaanites from their foundation as a people/nation. He cursed his son, Canaan, after Canaan saw him drunk and naked in his tent and ridiculed him to his brothers, Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:25). The destruction of Canaan marks one instance of God’s justifiable killing. Remember, the important fact at that time was that Israel was a theocracy that God ruled directly. They did not instigate the war of their own volition. The war with the Canaanites occurred as a direct result of God’s judgment of them.

Two other instances occur where God justified killing in the Bible. One circumstance where killing was justifiable was for capital punishment. Genesis 9:6 speaks to this when God told Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”

The other instance in the Bible where God justified killing was in self-defense. Exodus 22:2 says, “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account.” Deuteronomy 19 speaks on this as well when it speaks of the “avenger of blood” being allowed to execute the premeditated manslayer of his kinsman. The use of this rule of justifiable killing occurred on a large scale, too. When the Philistines, Egyptians, Assyrians and others killed Israelites in an attempt to take over Israel, God permitted self-defense by the nation of Israel – killing in retaliation for the bloodshed of a citizen by another nation.


The Promise

            Since we have identified who enemies of Israel were, and hence enemies of God, we can study Deuteronomy 20 in depth. We understand in which instances God condoned bloodshed, too. Before we go further though, we must better examine the first verse of this passage. It says, “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of the for the LORD your God who brought you up from the land of Egypt is with you.”

            Notice this verse does not say “if” you go to battle, but when. Because all humans are sinners, a constant battle/rebellion occurs each day against God. Since Israel was God’s chosen people of whom He made a nation for Himself, they would fight battles for the LORD as He commanded. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land (Canaan), God commanded them to destroy the Canaanites. By doing this, their own faith would not be corrupted by the religion of the Canaanites – the worship of Baal and the Asherim. God told them they would fight other battles, too. Because Israel was a theocracy, God directly commanded their army. God’s command to destroy the Canaanites came from His judgment of them.

            God knew other nations would challenge the Israelites for their land and prosperity. The Promised Land had the reputation of being a land flowing with milk and honey. This land was fertile, too, from God’s blessing of early and late rain in the year. God knew greed would bring armies from other nations against the Israelites. In verse one, Moses referred to Egypt. He spoke of horses and chariots. Egypt was the renowned maker of chariots and the breeder of horses strong and fast enough to pull a chariot in war. This let the Israelites and later readers know God would be with the Israelites in battles He commanded. The next nineteen verses gave more information about how God wanted the Israelites to prepare and fight in battle with the Canaanites and other countries.

            Though God gave rules about preparation of soldiers and the actual fighting in Deuteronomy 20, the most important part of the twenty verses is the last half of verse one. Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s might, power, and favor towards them. He said, “Do not be afraid of them (the enemies) for the LORD your God who brought you up from the land of Egypt is with you.” Moses, in those few words, reminded them they were God’s chosen people. He reminded them God brought them out of Egypt and up to that point in time. He provided shelter, food, water, and protection during those forty years. Hence, God would continue to be with them so do not be afraid.


Priest’s Commands

            After Moses told the Israelites God’s promise to be with them in battle, he told them that the priest, the chief God-elected ruler, must speak to the Israelite army before they approached battle. This priest (kohen) was one of the Levites who led the worship of Yahweh in the sanctuaries and temple. This was the chief ruler God provided for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 18. The priest’s words would address their spiritual preparation for battle. His speech included four negative commands followed by three positive absolute statements about God relating to the negative commands to the soldiers.

God, through His servant, Moses, commanded the priest tell them, “Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid or panic or tremble.” When we look at these commands closer, we note minute differences in each word, but all lead to the same end – fear, faltering, and failure. “Fainthearted” comes from the Hebrew word rakak and means to be weak of heart, soft, or fearful. This speaks of a mental fear. “Afraid” comes from the Hebrew word yare’ and means to fear or to stand in awe others. “Afraid” like “fainthearted” speaks of a mental attitude or anguish. “Panic” comes from the Hebrew word chapaz and means to hurry, flee, and be terrified. This word takes the mental fear to the next level, an active physical response. The final word, “tremble,” comes from the Hebrew word ‘arats and means to tremble, dread, fear, and be terrified. This word is a passive physical occurrence. The fear within a person makes his body shake or quiver, but does not make him or her fight or flee.

The priest’s talk to the soldiers addressed the three sides of fear. His next three statements about God related to each of the negative commands. In verse 4, God commanded the priest tell the soldiers of what the LORD God would do with and for them. God’s being for them would remove their fear. God commanded the priest must say, “For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to save you.” Notice the three verbs “go,” “fight,” and “save.” A progression exists in this list. First, we not the verb “goes” is a present tense word. God is ever with His people when they walk with Him. This repeats what Moses said in the promise of verse one. Joshua reminded the Israelites of this, too, in Joshua 23:10. “Goes” is an active physical verb. The verb “to fight” is an active physical verb, too. God promised to battle for them. The priest would remind them of God’s great might and power as He fought the Egyptians on their behalf. As God goes with them into the Promised Land and in future battles of self-defense, God would go and fight for them again. The final verb the priest spoke to the Israelite army is “to save.” This word comes from the Hebrew word yasha and means to save, deliver, and give victory. God will be physically active in the Israelites’ lives to save them from their enemies while they remained His people by being faithful to their covenant with Him. Knowing and remembering God is for them and goes with them to fight and save them, encouraged the soldiers not to be fainthearted, be afraid, panic, or tremble. The LORD God would be their deliverer.

Officer’s Command

            The last three verses encouraged the soldiers not to be afraid because the LORD was with them and would fight for and save them. The next four verses, verses five through eight, tell what God commanded the officers speak to the Israelite army. God defined the role of the officer in Deuteronomy 17. The Hebrew word used in verse five for “officer” is shoter, which means official, officer, or foreman. In Deuteronomy 17, we learned the officer was a Levitical priest who managed matters in the sanctuaries and temple. These men were the ones who accounted for and stored the offerings given to the priests, kept the temple maintained, and other tasks. The Levitical officers were not the ones who led the worship services, went into the holy of holies, or slay the offerings.

            This officer, Moses said, must speak of practical things to the soldiers. He would speak of lives, homes, properties, families, and fellow kinsmen/nationals. A regular pattern unfolds in this section of the chapter as the officer spoke to the soldiers. The first command of the officer to the soldier is, “Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate it.” The officer reminded the soldiers to make sure they dedicated and set apart their home for God and His purposes. Unless a person gives every part of him or herself to God, he or she is not ready to walk with the LORD.

            Verse 6 continues in the same way by saying, “Who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use its fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would begin to use it.” The officer reminded the soldier that God cares enough for a man to reap the reward of his hard work. If the man had not yet experienced the fruit of his produce so it was common to him, then he would not have the experience of receiving reward from God as a normal occurrence. He would not have that experience of God in his life because his vineyard was not established.

            In verse 7, Moses commanded the officer to say to the soldiers, “And who is the man that is engaged to a woman and has not married her? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would marry her.” Israelite law, set up by the LORD said, “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5). The soldier, from verse seven, would realize God cares for the man’s own family and the future of the Israelite nation. When a person realizes God cares for what is near his heart, he will give more of himself in service to the LORD in battle. The soldier knows God will take care of his family.

Notice in verses five through seven, God commanded the officer speak to the soldiers about what was new in their lives – homes, vineyards, and wife/family. When the soldier had the opportunity to dedicate each of these to the LORD, they became a part of Him. From this, the soldier saw God’s hand on his life in these ways, so he would be a better soldier for the LORD who provided each of his blessings. The soldier would be more willing to give himself completely to the LORD who gave him everything.

God gave a final command to the officer for him to say to the army in verse eight. He said, “Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, ‘Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart’.” As a final command, after the three statements of the priest made and the three commands of the officer, the soldier has one other chance to bow out of the battle. The officer tells him that if the soldier is afraid, even after remembering and realizing what God did and promises to do, his continuing to the battle will lower the morale of the other soldiers who are his brothers/kinsmen. No person wants to be the reason the morale of an army sank so they lost the battle. This speech by the officer to the soldiers gave the soldier one last chance to examine himself and decide if he would help bring victory for God and Israel. The officer spoke of practical matters, but then reiterated what the priest said about faintheartedness and added a personal message to it. God commanded the priest and officer to say each of the above commands. They, too, held responsibility in helping God and Israel win their battles.

Moses spoke to each level of a person in these commands – spiritual, physical, emotional, proprietorial, familial, and national. He highlighted that God cares about every need of a person. Moses knew that in each of these areas a person needed to be reminded God gave the blessings and would protect them. Hence, the soldier could focus solely on God and the battle ahead of him.

Rules of Warfare

Against Non-Canaanites

            After the priest and officers spoke to the soldiers of the Israelite army, those who remained with the army were the soldiers ready to fight for the LORD. From these soldiers, the officers would appoint commanders of the army. The English word “appoint” comes from the Hebrew word paqad, which means to attend to, set over, and muster. The word “commander” comes from the Hebrew word sar and means leader, captain, general, and commander. These commanders would be the chiefs in front of the people. They would lead them and make sure God’s will for the battle occurred.

            Interestingly, God had rules about warfare. The rules differed depending on if the Israelites fought people from afar or not. The two main differences between these two enemies dealt with offering peace and the people God did not want killed.

For battles against non-Canaanite armies, “cities that are very far from you” (vs. 15), God, through Moses, commanded the commanders, “You shall offer it terms of peace.” He then gave them two commands about what they were to do if the city accepted peace or not. Moses said, “If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you” (vs. 10). The text means if you cry out and offer peace. The Israelite army must call out to the city before it besieged the city walls and gates. If the people of the city shouted out and answered peace, then anyone found in the city would live and be servants for the Israelites.

For cities that did not offer peace and open their gates, death occurred. Verse 12 says, “If it does not make peace with you, but makes war, then you shall besiege it.” The army could make siege weapons and destroy the city walls and gates. Whoever died during the siege was a casualty of war. Additionally, the LORD said in verses thirteen and fourteen when they gained the city, the Israelite army was to kill every the men with the sword. The women, children, animals, and the spoils in the city were booty/plunder for the Israelites to use. The men were killed because they were the ones who filled a city’s or nation’s army. The women and children became servants. Remember, from Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23, God made sure the Israelites provided for their families, their servants and slaves, the orphan, widow, and foreigner in their land. God meant for each person living in the Promised Land to have what they need.

Against Canaanites

            In the last six verses, Moses told the commanders what they and the soldiers of the Israelite army were to do when battling people from cities that are very far from them – non-Canaanite cities. In verses 16 through 18, Moses reminded the Israelites what God commanded they do to the nations who lived in the land of Canaan - the land God promised to Abraham and his descendents. What God commanded through Moses here is what God also commanded them in Deuteronomy 7:1-5. This passage is the law of the ban. God was adamant that no person escape death who lived in Canaan before His giving the land to the Israelites.

In verses 16, Moses said, “Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes.” God did not give a suggestion. He commanded them by using the word “shall.” For emphasis, Moses repeated this command of God in another way in verse seventeen. He said, “But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you.” From verse 16, the Hebrew word translated as “alive” in English is chayah. It means to live or remain alive. The word “breathes” comes from the Hebrew word neshamah and means has breath or the spirit of man. The spirit of man shall not breathe in the old Canaanite nations. This command is specific. The Israelites know the law of the ban. The command is such an intensive one they were not likely to forget it the first time Moses passed God’s command to them in chapter seven.

            What is of importance is that God commanded this of the Israelites. They have a covenant with God to which they agreed at Mount Sinai/Mount Hebron. That reason is enough to demand obedience. However, for God’s created, thinking, and reasoning human, He provided another reason. Moses stated God’s reason in verse eighteen, “So that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.” God gave this same reason in Deuteronomy 7:4 and Exodus 23:33. The Canaanites’ worship of Baal and Asherim and the practices they performed in the worship of these false gods were detestable to the LORD God. God tried to prevent the people He called His own – the Israelites – from being lured into following the ways of the Canaanites. In Deuteronomy 7:1-5, God told the Israelites not to intermarry with them so that the children of the Canaanites would not teach the Israelite children their ways. The LORD God set up laws to prevent His people from sinning so they would remain pure and stay faithful to their covenant with Him.

            What came next in this chapter, verses nineteen and twenty, is like the cherry on top. God considered the fear and trembling the Israelites would face in battle. He reassured them. God considered their hope for a future and consecration to Him so He allowed a few  soldiers to stay at home for a time. He considered the morale of the soldiers of the army when faced with one who remained fainthearted, so provided a way for that one to stay home. God provided clear guidelines for peace against a far enemy or victory in battle should the enemy not give peace. He commanded that only men be killed. However, God did not change His stance when the Israelites battled the Canaanites. He remained faithful and purposeful. God showed Himself mighty, merciful, and caring for enemies and for the soldier’s best interests. The next verses show another facet of God’s care.

Rule about Trees

                God commanded the Israelites when they besieged a city to make war with it not to destroy the fruit trees (vs.19-20). This appears to be an arbitrary command at the end of a chapter, which boosts the morale of the soldiers and gives rules of warfare. What can these two verses mean?

            In the instance where the enemy of a far city chose not to offer peace, the capture of a city would occur by building siege works to batter the walls and gates of the city. The Israelite army would build siege works against cities within Canaan, too, who closed their gates to them. These siege works would be made of the wood from nearby trees. In verse 19, God said through Moses, “You shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them, for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down.” The word “destroy” in Hebrew is shachath and means destroy, ruin, and spoil.

            What was the purpose for not cutting down the fruit trees? The purpose was two-fold. God cared that they had food to eat during the battle. The other purpose for not cutting down the fruit trees is so that when they took over the land, they would take possession of a fruitful place. By doing this they would not spoil the land. If they destroyed the trees, then a large part of the ecosystem would be lost, which affects other parts of ecosystem. Added to this, a large part of the provision God made for them would be destroyed. The land would not have as much “milk and honey” as before the battle. As before when we saw God’s care of the mental, familial, spiritual, national, and proprietorial needs of the individual soldier in His army, so He cares about their physical need for food as an army and as a nation. God’s plans were all-encompassing for each individual soldier in His army and for the army as a whole. His plan was holistic and aimed for each man and for the betterment of the whole army.



God set up rules for battle in Deuteronomy 20. He provided for the needs of each individual soldier – physical, spiritual, familial, and proprietorial – and for the whole army – national. The priest of God spoke to the spiritual needs – God is great and mighty and they saw Him fight and save them before (vs. 2-4). The officer spoke to the spiritual, familial, national, and proprietorial when he put four questions before them and gave them a permitted reason to leave the army at that time (vs. 5-8). The appointed commander provided military leaders who were accountable to God for the soldiers of God and led them to follow His rules for peace, servitude, or death and destruction (vs. 9-18). At the end of the chapter, God showed His care for the physical and future needs of His people when He commanded them not to chop down the fruit trees.

After the Israelites asked to have a king like the surrounding nations, they were no longer a theocracy, a people founded and ruled by God. They could not claim to go out in holy battle against any other nation, just as we cannot accuse and judge another person for his or her sin. God can use an army to punish another country. He allows a battle to occur, just as He did the Assyrians when they took the northern kingdom and the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom. God’s judgment will occur ultimately at His judgment seat. He may punish or judge before then, but that is His decision, not the decision of humans. The annihilation of a people group or nation by another group of people for religion’s sake is not done by God anymore because a theocracy no longer exists on earth.


God is not a God of hate and warfare. He is a God of love as we read in the Old and New Testaments. God’s love is why humankind was and continues to be created. His love is why He provided a way for humankind to return to Him. Allowing war is one way God brings judgment and punishment on His enemies. His enemies are those who rebel and oppose Him. The chief and leader of God’s enemies is Satan.

            From the Bible we learn Satan opposes believers in 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 2:1-7, Zechariah 3:1-2, and 1 Thessalonians 2:18. We read, too, that he slanders believers in 1 Timothy 5:14. Satan opposes God’s purposes as we read in Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33. He opposed God’s Word in Matthew 13:3-19, Mark 4:3-16, Luke 8:4-12, and Acts 13:8-10. Satan opposed God’s righteousness and blasphemed God in 1 John 3:7-10 and Revelation 13:6. Whenever a person rebels against God, His laws, His statutes, and denies Christ, he or she chooses to follow Satan. Doing that makes a person an enemy of God.

            Yet, God did not create humankind to let us die. He provided a way for us – rebels and sinners – to return to Him even though we deserve judgment. Romans 5:10 says that while we were enemies of God, He reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son and provided salvation through Jesus’ life. This redemption and salvation God provided through Jesus is not just for the Israelites. He provided them for every person of the world.

            In addition to God’s provision for our salvation, Jesus came teaching a new thing. He taught we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-36), bless them (Romans 12:14), feed them (Romans 12:20), pray for them (Matthew 5:43-48), and forgive them (Luke 23:34). God alone judges. Jesus said He did not come to judge but to save the world (John 12:47). In John 8:11, Jesus told the woman caught in prostitution He did not condemn her either. Jesus came bringing the complete message. He said every person in the world is a sinner who needs a savior. No human is righteous and sinless so no one is a righteous judge of anyone else. Therefore, we cannot stand in judgment of other people. We are sinners just like the people at whom we want to point an accusing finger. This is what Jesus told the Pharisees who wanted the prostitute judged and punished. Instead of judging people, Jesus taught we are to love our enemies, those people who actively oppose us.


None of us is righteous/sinless. We all have sinned. That makes us all enemies of God. We deserve judgment. Yet God, because of His love, provided a way for us to return to Him through the death and life of His Son, Jesus Christ. He provided a way for us not to receive our just penalty for sin - death, and eternal separation from God - through Jesus. Deuteronomy 20 speaks to us today reminding us we will battle. Our battles will involve fighting the temptation to sin – to follow Satan’s desires. God, in verse one, said when we go in battle against strong enemies, “Do not be afraid of them for the LORD your God is with you.” God did not just go with you the last time you battled and then leave you to fight on your own in the future. Verse 4 says God “goes” with you to fight for you and to save you. As you have experienced Him in your life in the past, remember His power and strength and know He will go with you now and in the future. God goes, fights, and saves. He does not do it partly, but fully. He takes care of the whole person – spiritual, physical, mental, familial, national, and proprietorial. God’s promise can fill you with certainty and give you the power of His Holy Spirit to walk with Him through whatever comes.

Go in the certainty of the power and might of God

being filled with His power through the Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Kinsman Redeemer Deuteronomy 19

Deuteronomy 19


The next chapters of Deuteronomy, chapters 19 through 26, continue God’s rules and laws for living in community with other people. Earlier, He spoke on who the leaders of Israel were, what the religious festivals were, what the religious laws were, and which people God cared for in His chosen nation – every Israelite including the orphans, widows, poor, and foreigners living in the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 19, God taught the Israelites how to live in community and what to do about manslayers, property infringements, and reputation offenders. These three relate to a person’s body, property, and integrity. In later chapters, God taught the Israelites rules and laws about wars, deaths, wives, crimes, and other daily concerns. Our study today deals with chapter 19 – manslaughter, places of refuge, land boundaries, and witnesses.

Refuge Cities

Cities of Refugee

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God told them to set aside cities of refuge. Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19 of the Pentateuch speak of this. The Numbers 35 passage gives much detail on the purpose of the cities of refuge and in what way God wanted justice administered in them. In Numbers 35, God told the Israelites to set aside six cities throughout the Promised Land, east and west of the Jordan River, as places of refuge for people who kill other people. Moses spoke of three cities in Deuteronomy 19:2. In Joshua 20, we learn these cities were Kedesh in Galilee, Shechem in Ephraim, Kiriath-arba (Hebron) in Judah, Bezer in Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan in Bashan. The cities of refuge were six of the forty-eight cities the Israelites were to give the Levites for them to live in and pasture their animals (Numbers 35:1-5). Remember, the Levites were God’s chosen people to be His priests and to lead the Israelites. The Levites were His judges and officers in matters of law. Hence, it makes sense that the cities of refuge would be cities of Levites.

God knows the hearts of humankind. He knows their desire for revenge when they feel wronged and when someone kills a family member. God gives great weight to the sanctity of life. He prepared in advance for the refuge of a manslayer until His judges rendered judgment. God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 19:3, “You shall prepare the roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the LORD your God will give you as a possession, so that any manslayer may flee there.” The word “prepare” in this verse comes from the Hebrew word kuwm. It means to set up and make ready. This passage is like the road Isaiah spoke of in chapters 40 and 42 when he told the people to prepare the road/way for the LORD. God knew people would kill one another accidentally and intentionally. He wanted a smooth road leading to redemption made for manslayers. He wanted godly justice meted out, not blood by the avenging family member. Like God declared prepare a way for the LORD, the true Redeemer, He said to prepare the road to refuge. He wanted to be the judge of people and not allow angry humans to be judges.

Accidental Manslaughter

In Deuteronomy 19:4-10, God told the Israelites what His judgment is of the person who accidentally killed another person. In verse 4, God told them the accidental manslayer could flee to the refuge and live. That summarizes the law about accidental/unintentional manslaughter. To give more depth to His ruling, God gave an example of an unintentional manslayer. When a man chops down a tree and the axe slips off the handle and kills his friend, he is free from the judgment of death. God taught this same thing in Numbers 35:22-25 using three examples, each of which speak of the accident occurring without anger or enmity toward the one killed by the manslayer. The important point of who is a premeditated killer deserving the judgment of death and who is an accidental manslayer is made in these passages – the manslayer’s intention. Accidental manslaughter is a reason God established cities of refuge. Without the cities of refuge for a manslayer, the avenger of blood could pursue and kill the innocent person in the heat of anger. God provided redemption for the accidental manslayer.

“Avenger of Blood”

Let us look closer at who this “avenger of blood” from 19:6 is. The Hebrew word for “avenger” is ga’al. It means to redeem, avenge, revenge, or ransom. The Hebrew word for “blood” is dam. So the title of the person avenging a kinsman’s death was the “avenger of blood” or go’el ha-dam in Hebrew. The avenger was the relative closest, by blood, to the one harmed in body, property, or reputation. This avenger of the relative would confront the abuser of the relative and demand reparation and justice. The avenger/ga’al also redeemed a kinsman’s land or self from a creditor to whom the relative became indebted. The Hebrews called this person the avenger or the redeemer. People called this avenger the kinsman redeemer. From this idea of the kinsman-redeemer came the idea the Messiah as the redeemer of His people from their woes.

Purpose of Refuge Cities

As we return to our Deuteronomy 19 text, we must notice the Hebrew definition for the English word “manslayer.” The English word “manslayer” is ratsach in Hebrew. It means a killer, accidental or premeditated. God taught through Moses that killings occur by accident and by purposeful intention. People easily anger over the killing of a relative and in the heat of the moment seek revenge. God wanted the people to stop and realize manslaughters occur by accident, too. For this, He provided places of refuge for a set amount of time so that the avenging family’s anger cooled. In Numbers 35:25-28, God said the accidental manslayer has refuge from the avenger of blood within the walls of the refuge city. He or she could leave the refugee and be safe when the high priest at the time of the slaying died. The manslayer could then return to the land of his possession. In Numbers 35:29, God said, “These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” He said this exact law people must uphold for all manslayers without hedging, bribes, or any corruption.

Connected to their Covenant with God

In Deuteronomy 19:7-9, God reiterated that the Israelites set up three cities of refuge and that other cities (the remaining three) be set aside as their borders grew. As an added incentive to do this, God tied the establishment of cities of refuge and the administration of God’s statutory laws to the Israelites’ covenant with Him. In verse 9, God said, “If you carefully observe all this commandment which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and to walk in His ways always, then you shall add three more cities for yourself besides these three.” Notice the words “carefully observe” in this verse. Moses used his most spoken word here that the Israelites would know well, shamar, meaning hear, listen, and obey. The covenant spoken of in verse nine is the same one they agreed to in Deuteronomy 6:5. Moses reiterated it here for them as a reminder – to love the LORD your God and walk in His ways always. The Israelites were to love the LORD with all their being so it manifested itself in their lives – actions and speech. God tied their covenant faithfulness to Him with the establishment of His redemptive judgment of innocent manslayers. If the Israelites remained faithful to their covenant with Him, He would give refuge and redemption to people involved in accidental harm of others. God did this because of His love for them so that innocent blood would not be shed and the guilt associated with it would not stain them, God’s consecrated people.

Premeditated Manslaughter

In verses 11-13, God gave His laws about premeditated manslaughter. He explained in verse eleven what determined if the slayer premeditated the killing. God said if the manslayer hated his neighbor, laid in wait for him, rose up against him, and struck him so he died, then he or she premeditated the slaying. Notice God did not use these four verbs when He described an innocent manslayer in verses four through ten. The premeditated manslayer harbored hate in his heart for his neighbor. He waited to ambush, rise against, and kill the person so that died. The intention of the heart is what determined an innocent from a premeditated manslaughter. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus said what comes from the heart is what defiles a person. He taught in Matthew 5:1-12 about what is in a person’s heart. Jesus told them committing murder and being angry with a brother (kinsman, national citizen/Israelite) are the same and makes the person guilty in court (Matthew 5:21-22). What is in a person’s heart, one’s feelings toward a person and one’s plans, cause the person to be guilty as much as one’s actions. When the premeditated manslayer flees to the nearest city of refuge, the elders in the city (see Deuteronomy 17-18) must hand him or her over to the avenger of blood (Deuteronomy 19:11-12).


God added one other teaching to this. The Israelites must not show pity or compassion on the premeditated manslayer, but must purge the guilt of the innocent blood from Israel. This means they avenged the blood of the innocent victim by judging and handing the life of the premeditated murderer to the avenger of blood for the judgment of death. It meant, too, that the people in Israel would recognize God’s judgment and be afraid in the positive and negative sense – fear of God’s judgment should they break His laws and reverence for the omniscient and omnipotent God.

God made a definitive distinction between accidental and premeditated manslayers in this chapter as He did in Numbers 35. What is in a person’s heart and acted upon is the determining factor. Relating to people throughout each day involves this same interplay of choice in the heart. Will a person act with integrity out of respect for the person and in faithfulness to his or her covenant with God or not? In this chapter of Deuteronomy, God spoke to the Israelites about two other aspects of living within community.

Real Property

Inheritance and Law

Deuteronomy 19:14 speaks of real property - land. God, in specific, spoke of stealing another person’s land. Each person of Israel received an inheritance as an heir to God’s promise with Abraham. Stealing another person’s land, even just a small part of it, shows discontent and covetousness (see the 10th Commandment). God commanded His leaders give each man of Israel an equal share of the Promised Land. Yet because God knows the hearts of people, He repeated the basis of the land allotment along with a related law. In verse 14, God stated, “You shall not move your neighbor’s boundary mark, which the ancestors have set in your inheritance, which you will inherit in the land that the LORD your God gives you to possess.”

People often want what is not theirs. They sometimes believe others have a better portion in life. God reminded the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land that they each were inheritors of His promise with Abraham. They did not earn the land, nor was the promise made to them. The Israelites inherited the land as a benefit of Abraham and God’s faithfulness to their covenant with each other. So they were not to feel they were due any more than they received because they deserved none of the land.

Connected to their Covenant with God

God then reminded the Israelites that the way they would possess the land was to stay faithful to their covenant with Him. In Deuteronomy 6, God said they would “possess” the land, which means keep and not be disinherited, if they remained faithful to their covenant with Him. This covenant Moses just reiterated to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 19:9, “to love the LORD your God and to walk in His ways always.” In loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind, their actions and words would show their love for Him. The Israelites’ love meant they would obey God’s laws, commands, statutes, and decrees, including the tenth commandment and this current statute of not moving another person’s boundary mark. If they did not obey God, they would disinherit – dispossess - the land as the Canaanites did before them. Later in Deuteronomy 27:17, God added a curse to this law. He said, “Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’.” Just as the Israelites’ covenant with the LORD contained a blessing for those who were faithful and curse for those who were unfaithful, this law contained the same blessing and curse – possession of the land or death, respectively.

Testimonies and Reputations

The Law

Another area of community life involves testimonies of witnesses. Earlier, in Deuteronomy 17:6, Moses taught the Israelites having two or three witnesses was better because of the hatred and evil that could live in a person’s heart against another person. In both Numbers 35:30 and Deuteronomy 17:6, and our current passage, Deuteronomy 19:15-21, a single witness cannot condemn a person. The first two passages deal with witnesses for a murder, but the latter speaks of witnesses for any iniquity or sin. In each of these passages, God recognizes the possibility of maliciousness and evil of a person to give a false testimony against another person to gain something of that person’s (Deut. 19:16). Because of this, God taught through Moses that the voice of one witness would not condemn a person of sin or iniquity. So when a person laid a charge against another person, God commanded the judges to investigate the charge thoroughly (Deut. 19:18). The judges (see Deuteronomy 17:9 - the town priests and elders) studied and investigated the case thoroughly and consulted with God as to His judgment so they would do well in God’s sight and for the people. Moses then used and if - then statement. He said, “If the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother (kinsman and fellow Israelite), then you (the judges) shall do to him just as he intended to do to his brother” (19:18-19).


God knows the heart of each person. He established laws of justice to discern truth in consultation with Him so that the people of Israel would stay clean from guilt and sin. Moses stated this in the last part of verse nineteen and continued God’s reasoning in verse twenty. He said following Him, His laws, and His judges would bring the purging of evil from them. It would make those who hear of the judgments, too, afraid ever to do such evil. Moses said this same thing in Deuteronomy 17:17 and 21:21. The Hebrew word for the English word “afraid” used in this verse is yare’. It means both fear of another person and reverence. When humankind follows God’s judgments people revere Him as almighty and omnipotent God. They fear His judgment on them for their sin and iniquity, too. Moses concluded this section on witnesses in the same way he did regarding laws about manslaughter. He said in verse twenty-one, “Thus you shall not show pity.” By showing pity, it would weaken the effect of God’s judgment on the sin of the false witness. Other people might question the rightness of God’s divine law and judgment on the malicious person and, as a side effect, not revere God. So Moses said, “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” In the same way the malicious person contrived to hurt the innocent one, so he or she must be hurt so he or she will be afraid to harm another person and so he or she will fear the omnipotent, omniscient LORD.

God’s Plan

Not For Judgment

Many times people quote the retribution passage of an eye for an eye spoken in this part of Scripture. Often they forget or do not recognize the intent. The purpose is multi-fold: to teach the malicious person not to do evil, to teach those who hear about it not to do evil, and to teach every person about God’s greatness and power. The judgment is not to be vindictive, but enlightening and educating, reminding them of God’s omniscience and omnipotence and His purpose for human life.

For Relationship

God’s purpose for each person is to live in a love relationship/covenant with Him. He did not allow each of us to be born then just to sin, receive punishment, and die. God brought each of us into life to be in a relationship with Him so He can share His love and humankind can spread it. How do we share His love? We share His love by obediently following Him, which means living in harmony with all people and telling them of God’s intentional and planned redemption of each of us. God did not bring us in to the world to fail and receive punishment. His love was so large He provided a way for us to be redeemed from our sin.


Just as the kinsman redeemer paid the price for his kinsman to have his land returned to him or to be set free from slavery, Jesus paid the price for each of us to be set free from the judgment due us for our wrongdoings/sin. Because God cannot be in the presence of sin – the result of our wrongdoings – we cannot be in the presence of holy God. God provided a way for us, though, to be with Him and receive His love. Because the judgment of sin is separation from God, (God being life and separation from God being death) a substitution for our penalty had to be made. God provided the substitution. He sent His Son, Jesus, to earth to be born as a human baby. Jesus was still fully God, but He experienced the weight of humankind’s sin, too. You see, He took our penalty of death for us. Jesus died the death we for the judgment of our wrongdoings/sins. He did not have to, but He did because of His love for us. Jesus wanted us to have an eternal relationship with holy God, which we could not have otherwise because our sin kept us from the presence of God. Jesus redeemed us from our death penalty. In addition, His power over death, and, therewith, Satan, makes Him our Redeemer from slavery to sin. Jesus is the Kinsman-Redeemer for humankind because of God’s love for us. Men crucified Jesus - He died as a human - but His Father brought Him back to life and restored Him to His rightful place in heaven at the right-hand side of the Father. Jesus is 100% God. He was 100% man, too, while He lived on earth. God loves us so much that He created us. He loves us. He provided a substitute for our sin judgment. He welcomes us to Himself with open arms and says, “Welcome home!”


God is not vindictive; He is just. His justness comes from His righteousness. God is omniscient and omnipotent. God means for His judgments to be more than punishment of malicious and evil people. He gave them to bring our hearts and minds back to Him, to revere Him. God’s creating, calling, providing, guiding, and redeeming us proves His greatness and love for us. Who can deny God and His Son, Jesus Christ, when you look at His eternal purpose for humankind – to be in a love relationship with us?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,

that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” [John 3:16]