Friday, February 12, 2010


Chapter 19
Summary:Moses' speech continues:
"When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land the Lord your God has given you, and you succeed them and dwell in their cities, you shall set aside three cities in the midst of the land. You shall divide the land into three parts, with a city in each that anyone who has killed another may flee to. He who has killed his neighbor by accident, whom he had not hated in the past.

"If a man goes into the forest with his neighbor to chop wood, and the head of his axe slips off of the handle and kills his neighbor, he may flee to one of these cities for his safety; lest the victim's relative - the avenger of blood - pursue the man in their anger and kill him; whereas he was not worthy of being killed, because the man did not hate his neighbor in the past.

"If the Lord your God enlarges your borders, as he has sworn to your forefathers, and gives you all the land which he had promised to your forefathers - providing you obey these commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to walk forever in his ways - then you shall add three more cities of refuge in addition to the original three. Innocent blood shall not be shed in the land which the Lord your God has given you as an inheritance, for their blood will be upon you.

"But if any man hates his neighbor, ambushes and kills them, and flees into one of these cities, then the elders of the city are to fetch him and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, so that he may be killed by them. Do not pity him, but instead purge the guilt of innocent blood from the nation of Israel, so that all may go well with you.

"Never move your neighbor's boundary marker in attempt to cheat them out of their property in the land that the Lord your God has given you to possess.

"One witness alone shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins. Only with the word of two witnesses, or by the word of three witnesses shall the matter be established. If a false witness wrongly testifies against any man, then both men shall be brought before the Lord, before the priests and the judges at the time. The judges shall make a diligent inquisition, and if they find the witness to be a false witness, and to have testified falsely against his fellow Israelite, then his punishment shall that of which he had tried to have done unto his fellow Israelite, so shall you purge the evil from amongst you. The rest of the Israelites will hear and fear the verdict, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. You shall not pity them, but life shall go for life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot."
Thoughts:Moses begins this chapter by recapping what God originally told him in Numbers: Chapter 35 concerning the "cities of refuge" - cities set aside for anyone to flee to escape vengeance from "accidentally killing someone".

He tells the people that they are to set aside three cities for this purpose after they possess the "promised land" - in addition to the three cities Moses already picked out outside of the "promised land" in Deuteronomy: Chapter 4.

Moses then proceeds to give a terrible analogy about the kind of innocent accidental killers he had in mind. In Moses' analogy, he posits that if two men go out into the forest to chop wood, and the head of the axe slips off and kills one of the men, then as long as the man who wielded the axe didn't have any previous animosity toward the man he just killed, he is not worthy of a "revenge killing" by his "avenger of blood". The problem with Moses' logic, is that the two men despite not having previous problems may have gotten into a heated argument out in the woods which ended in murder, and it isn't difficult to make a murder look accidental. However, Moses stresses that this must be an accident simply because the men had no animosities toward each other in the past, which again is another dumb train of thought, as quite often sudden arguments can escalate fairly quickly into violence.

Moses then states that if any man dislikes his neighbor, ambushes and kills him, and then tries to flee into one of these "cities of refuge", then the elders of the city are to find the man and to deliver him to his "avenger of blood" so that they may have their revenge killing. The obvious problem here is how is it determined whether or not the man in question is innocent or guilty of murder? When you are that hasty to hand over a suspected murderer to someone longing for revenge by murdering that person himself, wouldn't you want extra precautions to ensure that the man you're handing over to be murdered is actually guilty?

Moses then briefly changes his focus to boundary markers on people's property in the "promised land", and tells the people of Israel that they are not to cheat their neighbor out of land by moving a boundary marker.

Next Moses states that a single witness is not to bring a case against a man for a suspected "sin". Only with the word of a minimum of two or three witnesses shall they establish a case. This verse - Deuteronomy 19:15 (along with 1 Timothy 5:19, 2 Corinthians 13:1, and Matthew 18:16) - unfortunately is often used as a justification by Jehovah's Witnesses for their refusal to report incidents of child molestation, unless two or three Jehovah's Witnesses have witnessed the crime. Furthermore, witnesses are often discouraged by the church from getting involved due to the shame it would bring to the organization. Even worse still, the victims are often threatened being removed from the church if they don't keep quiet about the abuse.

Moses then says that if a witness falsely testifies against another man then both men are to be taken "before God" - meaning before the priests - to be judged. If they find the witness to have made false testimony then his punishment will be that of whatever punishment fits the crime that he has accused his fellow Israelite of having done. Now obviously the problem here is that our senses deceive us. We can be wrong about something we've seen, but still strongly believe in our convictions until it is pointed out to us why we are wrong. The witnesses are not intentionally giving false testimony, they believe in what they are claiming despite being mistaken. When you have ridiculously harsh biblical punishments such as being stoned to death for picking up sticks on a Saturday, you now create an environment where people will probably apt to not get involved rather than risk being accused of giving false testimony - even if they're not.

In essence this law will scare away more authentic witnesses than it will potentially false witnesses when we consider that one of the most common reasons people commit crimes is because they either lack a fear of being caught, or they feel that they are smarter than those who enforce the law. Apparently Moses sees the angle of fear from this as being a preventative measure, but unfortunately this "fear" has the more unwanted side effect of silencing authentic potential witnesses.

Moses punctuates the disdain for false witnesses by stating that they should not be pitied, and that they should be treated with the method of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth".

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