Cities of Refuge. 1a When the LORD, your God, cuts down the nations whose land the LORD, your God, is giving you, and you have dispossessed them and settled in their cities and houses,b 2you shall set apart three cities* in the land the LORD, your God, is giving you to possess. 3You shall measure the distances and divide into three regions the land of which the LORD, your God, is giving you possession, so that every homicide will be able to find a refuge.
4This is the case of a homicide who may take refuge there and live: when someone strikes down a neighbor unintentionally and not out of previous hatred. 5For example, if someone goes with a neighbor to a forest to cut wood, wielding an ax to cut down a tree, and its head flies off the handle and hits the neighbor a mortal blow, such a person may take refuge in one of these cities and live. 6Should the distance be too great, the avenger of blood* might in hot anger pursue, overtake, and strike the killer dead, even though that one does not deserve the death penalty since there had been no previous hatred; 7for this reason I command you: Set apart three cities.
8c But if the LORD, your God, enlarges your territory, as he swore to your ancestors, and gives you all the land he promised your ancestors he would give, 9because you carefully observe this whole commandment which I give you today, loving the LORD, your God, and ever walking in his ways, then add three more cities to these three. 10Thus, in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you as a heritage, innocent blood will not be shed and you will not become guilty of bloodshed.d
11However, if someone, hating a neighbor, lies in wait, attacks, and strikes the neighbor dead, and then flees to one of these cities, 12the elders of the killer’s own city shall send and have the killer taken from there, to be handed over to the avenger of blood and slain. 13Do not show pity, but purge from Israel the innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.e
Removal of Landmarks. 14You shall not move your neighbor’s boundary markers* erected by your forebears in the heritage that will be allotted to you in the land the LORD, your God, is giving you to possess.f
False Witnesses. 15g One witness alone shall not stand against someone in regard to any crime or any offense that may have been committed; a charge shall stand only on the testimony of two or three witnesses.h
16If a hostile witness rises against someone to accuse that person of wrongdoing, 17the two parties in the dispute shall appear in the presence of the LORD, in the presence of the priests and judges in office at that time,i 18j and the judges must investigate it thoroughly. If the witness is a false witness and has falsely accused the other,k 19you shall do to the false witness just as that false witness planned to do to the other. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. 20The rest shall hear and be afraid, and never again do such an evil thing as this in your midst.l 21Do not show pity. Life for life,* eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot!m
* [19:2] Set apart three cities: the Israelites were to have at least six cities of refuge, three in the land east of the Jordan and three in the land of Canaan west of the Jordan (Nm 35:9–34); but since the three cities east of the Jordan had now been appointed (Dt 4:41–43), reference is made here only to the three west of the Jordan. The execution of this command is narrated in Jos 20.
* [19:6] The avenger of blood: see note on Nm 35:12.
* [19:14] Move your neighbor’s boundary markers: a prohibition against furtively extending one’s property by moving a neighbor’s boundary stone.
* [19:21] Life for life…: this phrasing of the lex talionis may seem exaggerated, but the law itself is meant to ensure equity and proportional punishment; cf. note on Ex 21:22–25.
a. [19:1–13] Dt 4:41–43; Ex 21:12–14; Nm 35:9–34; Jos 20:1–9.
c. [19:8] Dt 11:22–25; 12:20; Gn 15:18–21; 28:14; Ex 23:31.
f. [19:14] Dt 27:17; Jb 24:2; Prv 22:28; 23:10; Hos 5:10.
g. [19:15–21] Dt 5:20; Ex 20:16; 23:1.
h. [19:15] Dt 17:6; Nm 35:30; Mt 18:16; Jn 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1.