Cities of safe haven
Three cities for killers1The LORD your God will give you the land he promised. You’ll drive out the locals and settle in their towns and homes. 2When you do that, select three cities from among the tribes. 3But first, divide the land God gives you into three regions. Then select one city from each region. Build roads into those cities because each town will become a city of safe haven. People will rush to those cities for justice after they accidentally kill someone.
4These towns are for people who unintentionally kill someone they had no reason to kill, since the victim hadn’t been an enemy. 5Here’s one example. You and a friend might go into the woods to cut down a tree. When you swing the ax, the metal head might fly off the handle and kill your friend. If that happens, you can run for your life to the nearest city of safe haven. 6If you don’t, one of your dead friend’s relatives might hunt you down, catch up with you, and kill you in anger. This could happen even though the victim was your friend and no one had convicted of a crime or sentenced you to death. 7For reasons like this, select three cities of safe haven. 8The LORD your God promised your ancestors he would expand your territory. 9He’ll do that, as long as you follow the laws I’m telling you about today: to love the LORD your God and to do what he says. When you pick up more territory, add three more cities of safe haven. 10Do this to protect innocent people from dying—and to protect their killers from committing of murder.
11It’s different if you get angry at someone and you ambush and kill that person, then run to a city of safe haven. 12If city leaders find you guilty, they’ll have you escorted out of town and delivered to the dead person’s relative, for execution. 13Don’t pity a person like that. You need to get rid of the guilt in Israel by getting rid of the guilty. Things will go better for you when you do.
Don’t steal land or murder14When you move into the territory the LORD your God is giving you, don’t try to steal someone’s land by moving their boundary markers. Your ancestors put them there. 15Also, don’t convict anyone of anything based on just one witness. You need the testimony of at least two or three witnesses. 16There might come a time when you have the word of just one angry person another. 17Both should make their case to the priest or to a judge, with the LORD watching it all.
18The judge should conduct a thorough investigation. If he finds that the charges are false, and that the instigator lied, 19the judge should charge the liar with the crime made against the defendant—and punish the person accordingly. That’s how you get rid of evil embedded in your community. 20News of this conviction will spread, and people will realize it’s a bad idea to do bad things. 21Don’t pity convicted people. Sentence them fairly and punish them accordingly. Make it an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for a hand, and foot for a foot.
There were eventually six cites of safe haven, usually called “cities of refuge.” The first three were east of the Jordan River, since the Israelites conquered that territory first. The final three, referred to here, were west of the Jordan: Kedesh in Galilee, Shechem in the central hills, and Hebron (Kiriath-arba) in the southland. East of the Jordan River: Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan (Joshua 20). See also Numbers 35.
These common-sense laws were popular in Bible times throughout what is now the Middle East. They show up in the Laws of Hammurabi, a king in what is now Iraq. They’re engraved with other laws in a seven-foot-high (2 meters) black stone pillar made in the 1700s BC. That’s several centuries before Moses. The stone is on display in the Louvre Museum, in Paris.
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