Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 2. Cities. These were Hebron, Sichem, and Cades, on the west side of the Jordan, Josue xx. 7. Those on the east were already appointed, chap. iv. 41. Three others might also have been added, (ver. 8.; Calmet) in case the Hebrews had gotten full possession of the countries as far as the Euphrates. (Haydock) — The cities of refuge were not above forty-five miles distant from each other, in the land of Chanaan. Those in Galaad were not so far off, as the territory was smaller. (Calmet)
Ver. 3. Way, and keeping all in good repair, with guide-posts at the crossroads, on which Oleaster says moklot, “escape,” was written. See Numbers xxxv.
Ver. 6. Grief. The law granted so much to the sudden passion of a relation, who met the man slayer out of the cities of refuge, as not to punish him if he gave way to the dictates of vengeance, how unjust soever. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. At equal, &c. This addition is not in Hebrew (Calmet) or the Septuagint, (Haydock) but is conformable to the regulation given, ver. 3. (Calmet)
Ver. 8. And when. Septuagint, “but if.” This condition was never fulfilled at all times; (ver. 9,) and therefore the Israelites could blame only themselves, if the promises which God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (Genesis xv., xxvi., xxviii., and xxxv.,) were not realized. (Haydock) — Though the country was conquered under David and Solomon, the Israelites did not drive out the former inhabitants, (Calmet) nor did they keep possession for any long time. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. His city. Strict enquiry was made into the circumstances attending the manslaughter, Numbers xxxv. 12. If the refugee was proved guilty, he was delivered up to the next relation of the deceased to be put to death. (Haydock)
Ver. 13. Innocent. Many Latin copies have “guilty blood,” noxium. By putting the offender to death, Israel was expiated from the blood which had been shed unjustly. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. Landmarks, either which divided the tribes, or the inheritance of individuals. The former were strictly kept up till after the captivity. Those who removed the latter were to be scourged for theft, and again for disobeying this law. (Selden, Jur. vi. 3.) Josephus ([Antiquities?] iv. 8,) understands that encroachments on the territories of others, which give rise to many wars, are hereby prohibited. (Calmet) — So are likewise innovations in religion. The Romans had a superstitious veneration for these landmarks, which they adored under the name of the god Terminus, (Haydock) crowning them with flowers, and offering cakes and sacrifices to them. Spargitur et cœso communis Terminus agno. (Ovid, Fast.) — They punished the crime of removing them either with death, banishment, or a fine.
Ver. 15. One would suffice to make an enquiry into the affair, and to oblige the person accused, in pecuniary matters, to take an oath that he owed nothing. (Maimonides) — Stand. This expression was become proverbial, to denote the certainty of a thing, Matthew xviii. 16., and 2 Corinthians xiii. 1. Two witnesses cannot so easily carry on a cheat, (Calmet) as was seen in the case of Susanna. [Daniel xiii.] (Haydock) — The law is satisfied with moral certainty. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. Transgression against the law, by apostacy or by idolatry, (Junius) or by any other grievous crime. The person accused might, in this case, be examined, but he could not be condemned unless another witness appeared. Demosthenes (contra Aristocrat.) informs us how (Calmet) the Athenians (Haydock) required the witness in criminal matters, to swear on the flesh of a wild boar, ram, and bull, that he spoke the truth, and to utter horrible imprecations against himself and family, if he did otherwise. (Calmet)
Ver. 17. Lord, in the tabernacle. (Menochius) — Judges. Hence it appears evidently that the priests were to pass sentence in all difficult questions, as well in those which regarded individuals, as in those which attacked the worship of God; since the false accuser is to lose his life or limb, according as he had attempted to injure his neighbour; (ver. 21,) and the Lord ratifies their sentence. (Calmet)
Ver. 20. Things. This is the design of penal laws, to render justice to the innocent, and to prevent the spreading of a contagious evil, by cutting off the hopes of impunity. (Grotius, Jur. ii. 10. 9.) — “I would cause the criminal’s throat to be cut, says Seneca, (de Ira ii.) with the same countenance and mind as I kill serpents and venomous animals.”
Ver. 21. Pity. This regarded the judge, who must act with impartiality. (Worthington) — The law admits of no mitigation, but inflicts the same punishment on the calumniating witness, as he intended should fall upon his brother. (Lyranus; &c.) — Some Rabbins (apud Fag.) pretend that this was executed with rigour, only when the innocent had sustained some real injury. See Exodus xxi. 24. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The cities of refuge. Wilful murder, and false witnesses must be punished.
1 When *the Lord thy God hath destroyed the nations, whose land he will deliver to thee, and thou shalt possess it, and shalt dwell in the cities and houses thereof :
2 *Thou shalt separate to thee three cities in the midst of the land, which the Lord will give thee in possession,
3 Paving diligently the way: and thou shalt divide the whole province of thy land equally into three parts: that he who is forced to flee for manslaughter, may have near at hand whither to escape.
4 This shall be the law of the slayer that fleeth, whose life is to be saved: He that killeth his neighbour ignorantly, and who is proved to have had no hatred against him yesterday and the day before:
5 But to have gone with him to the wood to hew wood, and in cutting down the tree the axe slipped out of his hand, and the iron slipping from the handle, struck his friend and killed him: he shall flee to one of the cities aforesaid, and live:
6 Lest perhaps the next kinsman of him whose blood was shed, pushed on by his grief, should pursue and apprehend him, if the way be too long, and take away the life of him who is not guilty of death, because he is proved to have had no hatred before against him that was slain.
7 Therefore I command thee, that thou separate three cities at equal distance one from another.
8 *And when the Lord thy God shall have enlarged thy borders, as he swore to thy fathers, and shall give thee all the land that he promised them,
9 (Yet so, if thou keep his commandments, and do the things which I command thee this day, that thou love the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways at all times) thou shalt add to the other three cities, and shalt double the number of the three cities aforesaid:
10 That innocent blood may not be shed in the midst of the land which the Lord thy God will give thee to possess, lest thou be guilty of blood.
11 *But if any man hating his neighbour, lie in wait for his life, and rise and strike him, and he die, and he flee to one of the cities aforesaid,
12 The ancients of his city shall send, and take him out of the place of refuge, and shall deliver him into the hand of the kinsman of him, whose blood was shed, and he shall die.
13 Thou shalt not pity him, and thou shalt take away the guilt of innocent blood out of Israel, that it may be well with thee.
14 Thou shalt not take, nor remove thy neighbour’s landmarks, which thy predecessors have set in thy possession, which the Lord thy God will give thee in the land that thou shalt receive to possess.
15 *One witness shall not rise up against any man, whatsoever the sin, or wickedness be: but in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall stand.
16 If a lying witness stand against a man, accusing him of transgression,
17 Both of them, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord in the sight of the priests and the judges that shall be in those days.
18 *And when, after most diligent inquisition, they shall find that the false witness hath told a lie against his brother:
19 They shall render to him as he meant to do to his brother, and thou shalt take away the evil out of the midst of thee:
20 That others hearing may fear, and may not dare to do such things.
21 Thou shalt not pity him, *but shalt require life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
1: Year of the World 2553.
2: Numbers xxxv. 11.; Josue xx. 2.
8: Genesis xxviii. 14.; Exodus xxxiv. 24.; Deuteronomy xii. 20
11: Numbers xxxv. 20.
15: Deuteronomy xvii. 6.; Matthew xviii. 16.; 2 Corinthians xiii. 1.
18: Daniel xiii. 62.
21: Expdus xxi. 23. and 24.; Leviticus xxiv. 20.; Matthew v. 38.