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This small group Deuteronomy 19 Bible study guide contains commentary, discussion questions, cross-references, and application to encourage life change. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Deuteronomy 19 Bible Study Commentary And Questions – Cities of Refuge and Principles for Today


I. Cities of refuge (1-13)
II. Property boundaries (14)
III. Multiple witnesses (15-21)

I. Cities of refuge (1-13)

Discussion Questions

• What is a city of refuge?
• Why did God command for cities of refuge to be established?
• What do these show us about God’s character?
• Why was it important to have these cities dispersed across the region?
• What kind of deaths might verse 4 refer to?
• Why is there a different punishment for crimes of premeditation versus manslaying?
• What does this show us about the importance of motives?
• What is an avenger of blood?
• What would the punishment be for these types of deaths?
• What can we learn about how God does or does not hold the perpetrator responsible for this?
• Do you feel the punishment is just? Why or why not?
• Why does the perpetrator have to suffer consequences when it was just an accident?
• What important lessons does this teach us about personal responsibility?
• How can we better avoid dangerous accidents?
• What types of irresponsible habits can cause accidents while driving?
• What are some specific ways you can be more careful to prevent accidents?
• What does this passage teach us about the value of human life?


Numbers 35 – More information about cities of refuge.

Joshua 20 – Joshua established the cities of refuge as he was commanded.

Genesis 9:5-6 – And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Cities of refuge – In this passage, God implemented a legal system for dealing with manslaughter cases. Cities of refuge were not an “escape from jail for free” card. The manslaughterer would still have to face the consequences of his actions, but the punishment would not be death.

Cities of refuge were a way to implement justice, not thwart it. Murderers would still be punished accordingly by following the law (Deuteronomy 19:11-13, Numbers 35:30).

A trial would have to be held by the elders of the city to determine the intent of the accused. The avenger of blood (the accuser) would also be present at this trial (Numbers 35:24).

Joshua 20:4 – He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them.

God laid out several ways that the judges could discern the intent of the accused.

Numbers 35:17-24 – And if he struck him down with a stone tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. Or if he struck him down with a wooden tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. And if he pushed him out of hatred or hurled something at him, lying in wait, so that he died, or in enmity struck him down with his hand, so that he died, then he who struck the blow shall be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. “But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or hurled anything on him without lying in wait or used a stone that could cause death, and without seeing him dropped it on him, so that he died, though he was not his enemy and did not seek his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these rules.

If the perpetrator held a heavy object and used it to attack someone, then it is murder. Likewise, if he was already enemies of this person and, with premeditation, attacked them and they died, then it is murder. In these cases, the murderer would not be protected in the city of refuge.

But sometimes accidents happen. If a person accidentally killed someone else, then he could be protected in the city of refuge. Likewise, if there was a sudden disagreement and a person pushed someone else and then that person somehow fell and struck their head and died, the perpetrator could also find protection since it was not premeditated. Thus we see a clear distinction between accidental killing and intentional murder.

Both sides would be given the opportunity to make their case. The central question would be whether the killing was intentional and premeditated or an accident. If it was deemed to be an accident, the city would receive the accused and protect him from the avenger of blood. He would then have to stay within the city limits until the death of the high priest.

2. He would have to stay until the death of the high priest –

Joshua 20:6 – And he shall remain in that city until he has stood before the congregation for judgment, until the death of him who is high priest at the time. Then the manslayer may return to his own town and his own home, to the town from which he fled.

  • Why until the death of the high priest?
  • Time would dissipate the anger.
  • A warning to others to be careful.
  • To show the value of life.
  • To point to Jesus as our high priest who died for our sins.
  • A new high priest might be unaware of the case.

3. The avenger of blood – At this time in history, there was no active police force. Israel did not even have a standing army for most of the Old Testament period. So how would criminals be punished?

The family members of the deceased would appoint someone called an “avenger of blood.” That would generally be the closest mail relative of the deceased. It would be his job to see that justice was served.

The word “avenge” in Hebrew is similar to the word for “redeem,” “reclaim,” or “restore.”

“As a representative of God and the family, the avenger of blood “redeemed” or “reclaimed” the blood of the relative by killing the original blood-shedder.”

Source –

Avengers of Blood operated in a similar way to posses in the old American West. Sheriffs or marshals were too few to scour the vast plains to hunt down criminals. Therefore, law-abiding citizens would be appointed by law enforcement and given the right to help track down and bring the criminals to justice. The avenger of blood was appointed by God for this same task of bringing a criminal to justice.

We can see from Numbers 35:30 that these people also had to operate within the law.

Numbers 35:30 – If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.

They were not allowed to kill an accused person without a proper trial and confirmation from witnesses. He would perhaps be a warrior, someone strong enough to force the return of the accused for trial. Perhaps Avengers of Blood could be hired to bring back a fleeing murderer. But the main point is that these avengers of blood did not have free reign to carry out their own revenge.

Reflect – Is it OK for us to take the law into our own hands to bring criminals to justice today? What if the government is not doing its job?

We should remember that this is a passage describing a unique period of history. God’s law allowed for avengers of blood then. But societies operate differently now and we are not permitted to take the law into our own hands.

Romans 12:19 – Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

God is our avenger. He is the ultimate Avenger of Blood. He will bring all to justice one day.

Revelation 6:10-11 – They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

In addition, we should remember what Jesus did for us. He could have come as an avenger of blood to seek judgment against those who rebelled against God. However, instead of judging the world, He came to save the world. He died as a sacrifice for the very people He who had sinned against Him and the Father. Jesus satisfied God’s just requirements that blood should be shed (Hebrews 9:22) while demonstrating His love in allowing His own innocent blood to be offered in exchange for us.

At every level, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17-20).

Application – Do not take revenge, but leave it in the hands of God.

4. Man’s responsibility – The perpetrator had a responsibility to go to the city of refuge. God made provision for cities of refuge. These cities of refuge were very accessible. If you look at a map, it is clear that great care went into choosing cities that would be nearly evenly spaced throughout the country so that no matter where you were, a city of refuge would not be far away. There was a place of protection that a sinner could go to.

At the same time, that sinner was also responsible for getting up and going and finding his way to the city of refuge. In this aspect, cities of refuge are somewhat similar to salvation. God has provided a way for us to be saved and our sins to be covered. It is available for all. Yet each of us has a responsibility to respond to this offer and take steps to receive this salvation and grab hold of it. If a person made their way to the city of refuge, then credit goes to the Lord for His mercy on their behalf. If a person refused to go to the city of refuge, then his own punishment would be on his own head. The cities of refuge were close, so there was no good excuse for not taking God’s way out from the punishment that would come upon them.

Application – God is merciful and willing to forgive, but He always asks that we come to Him. The prodigal son returned to the father. We cannot just sin and live our lives doing what we want and expect to receive His mercy. We have to submit ourselves to Him and come to Him to ask for it. He offers an umbrella of protection. If we go outside of that, it is our responsibility.

Malachi 3:7 – Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

5. God’s mercy – God is patient and gracious. It pains His heart to see the lives He has created snuffed out and destroyed because of carelessness. He is slow to anger and abounding mercy. He doesn’t quickly strike down the sinner. Instead, He provides a place of protection, even