When the LORD your God has cut off the nations whose land He is giving you, so that you drive them out and settle in their cities and houses,
Deuteronomy 4:41-43) seems to have been peculiar to the legislation of Moses. It is an institution reflecting strong light on the wisdom, justice, and humanity of the Mosaic code. The system of blood revenging, while securing a rude kind of justice in communities where no proper means existed of bringing criminals to public trial, was liable to great abuses (ver. 6). The usage was, however, too deeply rooted to be at once abolished, and Moses, by this ordinance, did not seek prematurely to abolish it. The worst evils of the system were checked, and principles were asserted which were certain in course of time to lead to its abandonment. In particular the two principles were asserted:
1. The distinction between accidental homicide (vers. 4, 5) and intentional murder (ver. 11).
2. The right of every criminal to-a legal trial. It is a proof of the wisdom of the institution that, under its operation, blood avenging seems very early to have died out in Israel. These old cities of refuge, though their gray walls have long since crumbled to decay, have still much about them to interest us. We can scarcely regard them as ordained types of gospel realities, but they certainly furnish valuable illustrations of important gospel truths. To a reader of the New Testament, Christ is suggested by them, and shines through them, and the best use we can make of them is to learn from them the need of seeking a like security in Christ to that which the manslayer found in his strong city (see infra). - J.O.
That every slayer may flee thither.I. THERE ARE MANY, besides the murderer of Uriah, WHO HAVE NEED TO CRY WITH HIM, "DELIVER ME FROM BLOOD GUILTINESS, O GOD."
1. And, first, since a preacher must address his own conscience, as well as those of the hearers, I cannot forget the fearful applicability which this charge of blood guiltiness may have to Christian ministers. If ministers neglect to warn the wicked, if they keep back from the people any part of the counsel of God, either doctrinal or practical, and do not declare it; if they omit in their teaching either "repentance towards God," which is the beginning of the Gospel, or "faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ," which is the body and substance of it — blood lieth at their door, the angel of Divine vengeance is abroad in pursuit of them: blood for blood, life for life, this is His legal requirement; His eye shall not pity, neither shall it spare; the manslayer's life — not the life of his body, but the life of the soul — is justly forfeit, unless, indeed, there be, under the economy of grace, some spiritual city of refuge appointed for him, into which he may flee and be safe.
2. Consider, then, I pray you, that subtle, undefinable thing, conveyed in a single remark, or in a single glance, or even sometimes in a single gesture, called influence. Consider how it propagates itself, and runs along like beacon fires — how alarmingly contagious and infectious its nature is.
3. But the influence which all people professing religion exercise on society at large, and claim to exercise, is too important to go without some remark.
II. THE SINNER'S SPIRITUAL REFUGE, I NEED NOT TELL YOU, IS JESUS CHRIST, who represents also the merciful elders and the anointed high priest; and the road by which we flee to Christ spiritually is the road of faith.
1. First, he must fly to Christ, as if for his life, as a man flies from a falling house or a beleaguered town — as righteous Lot was directed to flee from the cities of the plain.
2. As impediments were removed out of the manslayer's way, and the road was made as easy and obvious to him as possible, so it is a very simple thing to believe in Christ, and thus to flee to our spiritual City of Refuge — so much so, that its extreme simplicity sometimes puzzles us, and makes us look with distrust upon faith, as if so very obvious a thing could not be the appointed way of coming to God.
3. When the merciful Elder, Jesus Christ, comes to the gate of the city of refuge, what have we to plead with Him? We have nothing to plead but our own sin and misery, and the Divine covenant which was ratified by His blood — the Divine assurance that He is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him. We must insist upon our right to receive a "strong consolation" for our troubled conscience, even because we have in God's appointed way "Cried for a refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us" in Him. And surely the merciful Elder will receive and comfort us, and give us a place that we may dwell with Him.
4. Again, the manslayer was to abide in the city of his refuge — and so must we abide in ours, if we would be safe. The justice of God may arrest us the moment we are out of Christ.
III. Such, then, are some of the points of analogy between the Jewish city of refuge and its New Testament Antitype. THERE ARE TWO POINTS OF GLORIOUS CONTRAST.
1. The city of refuge was permanently available only to such manslayers as had acted without any evil intent. Not so our City of Refuge! Christ is able to save to the uttermost.
2. The manslayer was to remain in the city until the high priest died. But our High Priest never dies. "He ever liveth to make intercession for us."
IV. DO WE WISH TO KNOW WHETHER WE ARE ABIDING IN THIS CITY OF REFUGE, UNDER THE WING OF THE MERCIFUL ELDER, UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST? There is only one safe test of this, and it is very easily applied. "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked"; and again, "Whosoever abideth in Him, sinneth not"; and again, "He that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him." As the evidence of our being in Christ at all is our bearing fruit, so the evidence of our abiding in Him is our bearing much fruit; "He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." And the fruit is this: "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against which there is no law."
Deliver him into the hand of the avenger
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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