“When the LORD your God destroys the nations whose land he is giving you, you will take over their land and settle in their towns and homes.
Then you must set apart three cities of refuge in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Survey the territory, and divide the land the LORD your God is giving you into three districts, with one of these cities in each district. Then anyone who has killed someone can flee to one of the cities of refuge for safety.
“If someone kills another person unintentionally, without previous hostility, the slayer may flee to any of these cities to live in safety.
For example, suppose someone goes into the forest with a neighbor to cut wood. And suppose one of them swings an ax to chop down a tree, and the ax head flies off the handle, killing the other person. In such cases, the slayer may flee to one of the cities of refuge to live in safety.
“If the distance to the nearest city of refuge is too far, an enraged avenger might be able to chase down and kill the person who caused the death. Then the slayer would die unfairly, since he had never shown hostility toward the person who died.
That is why I am commanding you to set aside three cities of refuge.
“And if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he swore to your ancestors, and gives you all the land he promised them,
you must designate three additional cities of refuge. (He will give you this land if you are careful to obey all the commands I have given you—if you always love the LORD your God and walk in his ways.)
That way you will prevent the death of innocent people in the land the LORD your God is giving you as your special possession. You will not be held responsible for the death of innocent people.
“But suppose someone is hostile toward a neighbor and deliberately ambushes and murders him and then flees to one of the cities of refuge.
In that case, the elders of the murderer’s hometown must send agents to the city of refuge to bring him back and hand him over to the dead person’s avenger to be put to death.
Do not feel sorry for that murderer! Purge from Israel the guilt of murdering innocent people; then all will go well with you.
“When you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you as your special possession, you must never steal anyone’s land by moving the boundary markers your ancestors set up to mark their property.
“You must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
“If a malicious witness comes forward and accuses someone of a crime,
then both the accuser and accused must appear before the LORD by coming to the priests and judges in office at that time.
The judges must investigate the case thoroughly. If the accuser has brought false charges against his fellow Israelite,
you must impose on the accuser the sentence he intended for the other person. In this way, you will purge such evil from among you.
Then the rest of the people will hear about it and be afraid to do such an evil thing.
You must show no pity for the guilty! Your rule should be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.