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Scripture reading – Deuteronomy 19-20

Deuteronomy 19

Moses’ challenge to Israel returned to the subject of cities designated as cities of refuge (19:1-13). After defining the boundaries of the tribes, Israel established three cities of refuge on each side of the Jordan, “that every slayer may flee thither” (19:3).

There would be a total of six cities of refuge in Israel. (Deuteronomy 19:2-13)

The law recognized a distinction between an accidental killing, described as one who “killeth his neighbor ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past” (19:4), and murder, an intentional killing provoked by hate and committed by lying in wait (19:11).

An example of an accidental killing was given (19:5) and proved the necessity for the cities of refuge to be far from one another in the land. The elders of the cities of refuge were to allow a slayer to prove that a killing was an accident and that he was innocent of murder (19:6, 10). A city of refuge was not to give sanctuary to a murderer (19:11-13).

Remove Not the Ancient Landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14)

Once land ownership was established, its borders were marked by natural boundaries or by a column of rock and stone. Because a man’s land was how he supported his family, it was a severe offense for a thief to move a landmark and thereby encroach upon the land of another.

Two or Three Witnesses Were Required to Convict (Deuteronomy 19:15-19)

The LORD required Israel to take any allegations of wrongdoing seriously. No man might be convicted of an offense without his sin being established by “two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses” (19:15). It was a serious matter when a man brought a “false witness” against another (19:16). The priests and the judges would weigh the testimony. After diligently inquiring, should a man be guilty of bearing a false witness, he would suffer the punishment of the crime for which he had “testified falsely against his brother” (19:18-19).

The law was summed up in this: “Life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (19:21).

Deuteronomy 20

Instructions for Going to War (Deuteronomy 20:1-4)

Israel’s invasion into Canaan would necessitate years of battles; however, they were not to be afraid of their enemies (20:1a). The men of Israel were to go to war, finding their courage from the LORD, and believing the God who “brought [them] up out of the land of Egypt” would be with them (20:1). When they prepared themselves for battle, the priest was to speak to the people, and remind them:

“Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; 4For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (20:3-4).

Exemptions from Enlistment (Deuteronomy 20:5-9)

To go to war required a man to be fully committed to the cause because distractions in the heat of battle could be disastrous to the man and his fellow soldiers. Therefore, four groups of men were exempted from military service in Israel: A man who had “built a new house, but not dedicated it” was allowed to return to his house (20:5). A man who had “planted a vineyard,” but “not yet eaten of it,” would return home (20:6). Should a man be “betrothed,” but not yet taken her to wife, he could return to his house (20:7). Recognizing the disastrous influence of fear amid battle, a man who was “fearful and fainthearted,” would be allowed to “go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart” (20:8).

Laying Siege to a City (Deuteronomy 20:10-20)

If the people of a city “were very far off” and willing to pay tribute, Israel was to offer terms of peace (20:11). Should terms for peace be rejected, every man of the city was to be slain, “but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle,” and all other spoil would be taken by Israel (20:14).

The nations that dwelled in Canaan, the land the LORD had promised Israel for an inheritance, were to be destroyed. “The Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites,” were to be destroyed, lest the heathen teach God’s people “to do after all their abominations” (20:18).

The land was the inheritance of God’s people. Therefore, the LORD required the army to spare the fruit trees when laying siege to a city. The trees that were not fruit-bearing, Israel was to “build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued” (20:20).

Closing thoughts:

In closing, notice the LORD’s grace and favor when He gave His Law and Commandments. His judicial system for Israel was just, and no one was to rush to judgment (19:15-19). But, desiring truth, any witness that dared distort law and justice with a false testimony would face the punishment of the crime for which they had falsely accused another (Deuteronomy 19:19, 21).

Micah 6:8b – “What doth the Lord require of thee, But to do justly, and to love mercy, And to walk humbly with thy God?”

Questions to consider:

1) What was an example of an accidental killing? (Deuteronomy 19:4-5)

2) To whom did the cities of refuge offer sanctuary? (Deuteronomy 19:6)

3) What was the judgment for lying witnesses? (Deuteronomy 19:18-19)

4) What message was the priest to deliver to Israel’s soldiers? (Deuteronomy 20:3-4)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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