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Cities of Refuge

19 “When the Lord your God destroys those nations whose lands he[a] is about to give you, you must dispossess them and live in their cities and houses. You must reserve[b] three cities within the land that the Lord your God is about to give you to possess. Build roads throughout the land that the Lord your God is providing as an inheritance, and then divide it into three districts so that any killer may flee there.

“Now this is the situation for any killer who flees there to live: suppose he strikes his friend unwittingly, not having hated him previously. For instance,[c] he may have accompanied his friend to go to a forest to cut trees. Then he swung his axe to cut some wood, but the ax head flew off the handle[d] and hit[e] his friend, so that he died. The killer[f] may flee to one of these cities to live. Since the distance may be great, the angry avenger may overtake the killer he is pursuing and kill him, in which case there will be no justice in his death, because he did not hate his friend[g] previously. Therefore I am commanding you to reserve[h] three cities.”

Increase the Cities of Refuge

“Now if the Lord enlarges your territories just as he promised your ancestors and gives you all the land that he promised,[i] and if you are careful to observe all these commands that I am commanding you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk daily in his ways—then add three more cities in addition to these three cities. 10 You must not shed innocent blood on your land that the Lord your God is about to give you as an inheritance. Otherwise, you’ll be guilty of murder.”

Refuse Cold-Blooded Murderers

11 “However, if a person hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises up against him, and attacks him so that he dies, and then he flees to one of those cities, 12 then the elders of his own city are to send for him, remove him from there, and deliver him to the related avenger for execution. 13 Have no pity on him, but totally purge the shedding of innocent blood from Israel so that life may go well with you.”

Boundary Markers

14 “When you inherit the land that the Lord your God is about to give you, don’t move your neighbor’s boundary marker from where it was placed long ago.”

Laws about Witnesses

15 “The testimony of one person alone is not to suffice to convict anyone of any iniquity, sin, or guilt. But the matter will stand on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 16 When a malicious witness takes the stand[j] against a man and accuses him, 17 then both must stand with their dispute in the Lord’s presence, the priests, and the judges at that time. 18 The judges will investigate thoroughly. If the false witness lies in testifying against his relative, 19 do to him just as he intended to do to his relative. By doing this you will purge evil from your midst. 20 When others hear of this, they will be afraid and will not do such an evil deed again in your midst. 21 Your eyes must not show pity—life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.”


  1. Deuteronomy 19:1 Lit. the Lord your God
  2. Deuteronomy 19:2 Or set apart
  3. Deuteronomy 19:5 The Heb. lacks for instance
  4. Deuteronomy 19:5 Lit. tree
  5. Deuteronomy 19:5 Lit. found
  6. Deuteronomy 19:5 The Heb. lacks the killer
  7. Deuteronomy 19:6 Lit. hate him
  8. Deuteronomy 19:7 Or set apart
  9. Deuteronomy 19:8 Lit. promised to give your ancestors
  10. Deuteronomy 19:16 Lit. witness stands

Cities of Refuge(A)

19 When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses,(B) then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood(C) might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities.

If the Lord your God enlarges your territory,(D) as he promised(E) on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him(F)—then you are to set aside three more cities. 10 Do this so that innocent blood(G) will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.(H)

11 But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbor,(I) and then flees to one of these cities, 12 the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die. 13 Show no pity.(J) You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood,(K) so that it may go well with you.

14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.(L)


15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.(M)

16 If a malicious witness(N) takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges(O) who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation,(P) and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party.(Q) You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid,(R) and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity:(S) life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.(T)

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