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The LORD, through Moses, commanded the Israelites to set apart three cities in the Promised Land to provide asylum for unintentional homicide.
Moses explained the purpose of setting aside the three cities of refuge in the Promised Land by providing a case in which one man goes into the forest with his friend to cut wood and accidentally kills him.
Moses then addressed the issue of someone guilty of premeditated killing (murder) fleeing to one of the cities of refuge. The murderer must be brought before the elders and then executed so that he might be removed from the Israelite community.
Moses warned the Israelites against moving the boundary mark of their neighbors, which their ancestors have set in the Promised Land.
Moses addressed the matter of witnesses and testimony in the Israelite community.
Moses told the Israelites to set aside three more cities of refuge in the Promised Land, besides the first three, if God enlarges their territory.
The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.
Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).
Outline of Deuteronomy:
I. Introduction: Moses will explain the law (1:1 – 5)
II. Moses’ First Sermon – a Recounting of the LORD’s Faithfulness (1:6 – 4:43)
III. Introduction to Second Sermon on expositing the Law (4:43 – 49)
IV. Moses’ Second Sermon – an Exposition of the Law Given at Mt. Sinai (5:1 – 26:19)
V. Script for Covenant Renewal Ceremony Once they enter the land (27:1 – 29:1)
VI. Moses’ Third Sermon – a Call to Obedience (29:2 – 30:20)
VII. The Last Acts of Moses (31:1 – 34:12)
Deuteronomy 19 begins a new section of the book (19:1 – 22:8) that begins by discussing laws related to the sixth commandment—You shall not murder (Exo. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). This chapter deals with three topics: the cities of refuge, the displacement of boundary markers, and the matter of witnesses. Moses asked the Israelites to set aside cities of refuge for those accused of killing a person accidentally. He also ordered execution for premeditated killing. Moses then warned the Israelites against moving the boundary mark of their neighbors, which might be considered bearing false witness and stealing. Lastly, he required two or more witnesses to convict someone of a crime. These measures were to ensure that the Israelites would live righteously before their Suzerain (Ruler) God, and see that justice is done among their fellow brethren, that the communities might live in harmony and mutual support.
Deuteronomy 19 can be outlined as follows:
-The Cities of Refuge (Deut. 19:1 – 13)
-Moving a Boundary Marker (Deut. 19:14)
-The Law Concerning Witnesses (Deut. 19:15 – 21)