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Deuteronomy 17-19

Supplemental notes for the Daily Bible Study Bible Reading Plan

by Wayne Blank

Deuteronomy Chapter 17

The Lord's justice is true justice because it is above human politics i.e. some things are "legal" in one country but "illegal" in another, while God's Law is based upon what is truly right for everyone, everywhere, forever (see Timeless). The Lord nevertheless allowed local or tribal councils to settle legal matters of God's one perfect Law, because local people were best capable of making an informed judgment. When a decision could not be reached at such a "lower court," the matter was taken to the Levites who were more studied in God's Law - but whether a decision was reached by a lower council, or by the Levites, everyone used God's Law as the basis for their decision. Contempt of court was a capital offense because the Judge that they were ultimately not respecting was The Lord.


"If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns which is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place which The Lord your God will choose, and coming to the Levitical priests, and to the judge who is in office in those days, you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place which The Lord will choose; and you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you; according to the instructions which they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the verdict which they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. The man who acts presumptuously, by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before The Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die; so you shall purge the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and not act presumptuously again." (Deuteronomy 17:8-13 RSV)

Kings and officials among the Israelites were to meet two qualifications - to be a citizen from within their own people (i.e. they were not to accept any foreign imperial ruler) and to personally know and live by the Word of God.

"you may indeed set as king over you him whom The Lord your God will choose. One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother." (Deuteronomy 17:15 RSV)

"And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in the charge of the Levitical priests; and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear The Lord his God, by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them; that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left" (Deuteronomy 17:18-20 RSV)

Deuteronomy Chapter 18

The Levites could freely move from one tribal territory to another within Israel because they had no tribal allotment of their own.


"The Levitical priests, that is, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings by fire to The Lord, and his rightful dues. They shall have no inheritance among their brethren; The Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them." (Deuteronomy 18:1-2 RSV)

"And if a Levite comes from any of your towns out of all Israel, where he lives - and he may come when he desires - to the place which The Lord will choose, then he may minister in the name of The Lord his God, like all his fellow-Levites who stand to minister there before The Lord. They shall have equal portions to eat, besides what he receives from the sale of his patrimony." (Deuteronomy 18:6-8 RSV)

The purpose of Prophets was to deliver the Word of God, not the word of themselves (see Traditions of The Lawyers and I Did It My Way...).

"And The Lord said to me, 'They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.'

And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word which The Lord has not spoken?' -- when a prophet speaks in the name of The Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which The Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:17-22 RSV)

Deuteronomy Chapter 19

The Commandment against killing was actually about not committing murder. The lethal force of lawful self defense, lawful military operations and lawful law enforcement were all the means by which "Thou shalt not kill" was enforced - The Lord commanded that the death penalty was to be imposed upon those who were found guilty of murder after a fair and impartial trial. The innocent were not to be punished. The cities of refuge were there to insure that justice was done.

City of Refuge

"This is the provision for the manslayer, who by fleeing there may save his life. If any one kills his neighbor unintentionally without having been at enmity with him in time past-- as when a man goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies - he may flee to one of these cities and save his life; lest the avenger of blood in hot anger pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and wound him mortally, though the man did not deserve to die, since he was not at enmity with his neighbor in time past." (Deuteronomy 19:4-6 RSV)

"But if any man hates his neighbor, and lies in wait for him, and attacks him, and wounds him mortally so that he dies, and the man flees into one of these cities, then the elders [see also The Senate] of his city shall send and fetch him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you." (Deuteronomy 19:11-13 RSV)

Fact Finder: (a) Did Jesus Christ ever impose the death penalty upon the Israelites who rebelled against The Lord? (b) Is Jesus Christ going to be forced to use lethal force to lawfully establish the Kingdom of God on earth?
(a) 1 Corinthians 10:1-5; see also Why Did Christ Put Moses To Death?
(b) See Christ the Conqueror For Peace

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