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.
Having clearly explained the rationale for setting aside cities of refuge in the Promised Land, Moses opened this parenthetical section to tell the Israelites that they might need to set aside three more cities if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, just as He has sworn to your fathers, and gives you the land which He promised to give your fathers.
It is clear from the previous section that if Yahweh provided more land to Israel, more cities of refuge would be needed. Simply stated, if there were only three cities of refuge within a wide territory, the manslayer (who accidentally killed someone) would not be able to reach safety before being caught by the dead man’s relatives who seek vengeance. But with six of such cities, the possibility to catch the manslayer would be reduced.
Moses once again emphasized that the conquest of Canaan was Yahweh’s gracious provision, just as He had sworn to their fathers. This highlights God’s faithfulness to His promises. The Suzerain God wanted Israel to possess the land of Canaan because He had promised to give it to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12). God had granted the land to Abraham as a reward for faithful service (Genesis 15:7-20). Now, as predicted, Abraham’s descendants from the Son of Promise (Isaac) will possess the land, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. To possess the land will require obedience, walking in faith that God will provide as promised.
Further, remaining in the land, and having the land expanded after being conquered will also require obedience. While the grant of land was unconditional, obedience to God was required to enjoy its benefits. Moses reminded the people that enjoyment of the land would happen only if you carefully observe all this commandment which I command you today (v. 9). The word commandment (Heb. “miṣwâ”) refers to the laws and rules, that is, the whole legal corpus that the Suzerain God prescribed to His vassals (Israel). He would enlarge the territory of His covenant people if they carefully obeyed His commandment.
They were also commanded to love the LORD your God, and to walk in His ways always. To love the LORD is to live in complete obedience to Him. As Jesus Christ later said to His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Thus, Israel’s love was to be their appropriate response to the LORD because He was their Suzerain God. He demanded faithfulness and loyalty from His people. This command is a basic summary of the first four of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).
The LORD also required His vassals (Israel) to walk in all His ways always. The term translated as “ways” (Heb. “derek”) literally means “road,” or “path.” However, Moses frequently used it figuratively in Deuteronomy to refer to the way the Israelites were to live; that is, in accordance to the laws of God. Thus, to walk in God’s ways implies Israel’s response to the covenantal laws of God, which should be manifested by a sense of dynamic and mutual engagement. Walking in God’s ways also led to a great benefit for the people. It was in their own best interest. There would be immense prosperity and enjoyment within a self-governing society where each person loved and sought the best for others. But to enjoy this blessing, the people would have to choose to obey God’s ways.
Then, if Israel walked in God’s ways, the Israelites would need to add three more cities for themselves, besides the first three (Deuteronomy 19:1-7). The addition of these cities would be necessary because God enlarges their territory. This would be a direct blessing from God for covenant obedience. This is the way God operates throughout the Bible. He gives gifts to humans, but leaves humans a choice, a responsibility to walk in obedience to Him in order to enjoy the gifts.
There is no record of these three extra cities of refuge ever being established. This was probably the case because the Israelites never secured the Promised Land to the extent that was specified by the LORD. God had promised to expand the Promised Land to fill the territory all the way from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River (Genesis 15:18). Israel’s borders have never reached this full extent. This is a clear example where God laid out an available benefit that was not received, due to a lack of obedience. God’s gifts are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). But experiencing the benefits of His gifts requires taking advantage of them. When God promises rewards for obedience, He awards them when there is obedience.
Finally, Moses said that the addition of these three cities (besides the first three) in Canaan would provide asylum only for manslayers, those killing someone accidentally and without premeditation. The purpose was so that innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of the land which the LORD was going to give Israel as inheritance (v. 10). The innocent blood mentioned here is that of the manslayer. This would prevent bloodguiltiness from being on the people of God. In other words, God’s chosen people would not be guilty of shedding innocent blood. The Suzerain God who gives life to everyone also commanded us not to murder (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Avenging the death of someone who died accidentally is shedding innocent blood. Any shedding of innocent blood violates God’s covenant and disrespects the dignity of life.
8 If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, just as He has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land which He promised to give your fathers— 9 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. 10 So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and bloodguiltiness be on you.
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