Call to Worship February 9 2020
Thoughts on Deuteronomy 19:
The Lord God made promises to His people for a future land. He also planned for proper protection for His people interacting in that land. Chapter 19 renders some legal aid for matters of life, property, and testimony. As Raymond Brown stated, “God’s realism is more vividly portrayed in Deuteronomy than anywhere else in the Bible. He makes careful provision for life as it is, not how some would like it to be. The people are about to enter a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ but the Lord knows that, however beautiful the land, it will be inhabited by sinners.” (*Raymond Brown, pg. 181-182) Sinners will not only sin willfully, but at times in ignorance and possibly negligence. So, the Lord established a way for all of these matters to be dealt with in daily life and with appropriate justice in mind.
Life and death are two of the most important matters in the scripture. Deuteronomy 19 revealed that in exact measure. Specifically, when a life is taken questions must be asked and information discerned or else further needless loss of life may occur. So God, through Moses, explained the need for cities of refuge for those who may have killed someone in negligence and without intent. These cities were not for the escape of justice, but for the purpose of proper justice and no further bloodshed. (*Ibid., 182) This gave an opportunity for information to be gathered, witnesses to be heard and a thoughtful judgement rendered. If the death penalty was to be administered, it needed to be administered for a murder, not a verifiable killing of negligence. “The law said plainly, ‘You shall not kill’ (5:17) but what of a person who kills his neighbour accidentally?” according to Dr. Brown, “He must be protected or the situation will get worse. If the offender’s blood is also shed, however transparent his innocence, then within a matter of hours two innocent people have died and the feud would inevitably spark off further trouble between two families which had earlier been at peace.” The outcome of vigilante justice often makes matters worse, not better. So God in these matters is setting forth boundaries in dealing with cases of the loss of life.
He further provided context for other boundaries in life. One in particular noted in this chapter is property boundaries. Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled Mending Wall. One of its most remembered phrases is, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The poem interjects the idea of the thoughtfulness of boundaries in the context of peacefully living in a community. People need order and space. So God provided both as a help to His people in a new land. This does not mean every person gets 1,000 acres, but it does mean that personal space, including a physical place with fences or walls, is good for people living in community. The one who removes those boundaries for any reason brings disturbance in a community not peace. The disturber is to be admonished and later in Ch. 27 verse 17 God said, “Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.” These boundaries were meant to help order and peace. Yet sinners often look for chaos.
Moses does not prescribe chaos, as God is not a God of chaos. God is a God of order, so he prescribed to His people a plan and place of law and order. This chapter not only established the basis of multiple witnesses, and the need for good boundaries, but the illegitimacy of false witnesses. For justice to be carried out properly in any matter, gathering as much eye witness information is not only important, but necessary. The scripture here and in other places speaks to the necessity of two or more witnesses. Multiple witnesses provided accountability for everyone involved. Whether it was an issue of a life taken or money stolen, simply listening to only one witness or having no witness at all would further muddy the issue. Multiple witnesses would give possible clarity with contradictions and hopefully nullify the effect of any false witnesses. Ultimately this chapter declared the force of the law against a false witness. For a false witness was breaking God’s law in lying against another person. Therefore, protection of life and property were important enough to seek multiple witnesses for discernment and to punish known false witnesses for the good and peace of the community.
We live in a day where false witnesses are often used much like in the time of Naboth. Jezebel planted them for her purpose of using accusation and false witnesses as evidence. So it is today; the accused are sometimes condemned because they have been accused, not because of an overwhelming preponderance of evidence has been established by credible witnesses and facts. We are in need of the ideals this chapter conveys. The scripture reveals these truths for our good in human communities, but especially for living together as the body of Christ. Christian communities need to remember these truths and apply them well even if the world does not. Many Christians are falling into the trap of the world and simply following the accusations for the route of condemnation. Let us be sure God is not pleased when this happens.
Furthermore, let us be reminded that God never bears false witness against anyone, especially sinners. So we must remember His holy accusations and pronounced condemnation against those at enmity with Him. May we be thankful for His honesty regarding our cosmic crimes against him and may we turn to the only advocate provided for the salvation of sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Brandon F. Smith
*Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy: Not by Bread Alone, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993).