Deuteronomy 17-20: Kill infidels, Levitical rights, kill all men in enemy town

If anybody in your settlements transgresses the covenant by worshiping other gods, you must investigate thoroughly.  If it is true, you shall take him/her to a public place and stone them to death.  If any criminal or civil case is too difficult for you to decide, you shall take it before the levitical priests or the magistrate, and their ruling shall be absolute.  Anyone who violates it shall die.  You may set up a king, but he shall not have many wives, amass excessive wealth, or deviate from this Instruction.

The Levites have no land; they live only off of the LORD’s offerings by fire.  Therefore, everyone who offers a sacrifice must give the shoulder, cheeks, and stomach to the priest.  They are also entitled to the first fruits of your grain, wine, and oil, as well as the first shearing of your sheep.  When you enter the new land, do not perform Canaanite practices like child sacrifice, augury, soothsaying, divining, or sorcery; these are abhorrent to the LORD.  Instead, the LORD will raise up a prophet from among your people.  Any false prophets shall be killed.

Set up three cities for manslayers to take refuge in.  When a manslayer accidentally kills someone, he may escape from the blood-avenger to one of these cities.  If he is overtaken on the way, the blood-avenger may kill him.

When you take the field of battle against your enemies, the priest shall address the troops and remind them the LORD is with them.  Then the officials shall address the troops, allowing anyone who has built a new house but not dedicated it, or paid for a wife but not married her, or who is afraid, to go home.  If a town you are attacking surrenders, you shall enslave the population.  If it does not surrender, you shall besiege it, then kill all males and take the women, children, and livestock as your spoil.  These rules only apply to faraway enemies–for Canaanite towns, you shall not let anyone live.

Commentary:

  • 18:10-11 forbids a long list of supernatural activities: augury, soothsaying, divining, sorcery, spell-casting, consulting ghosts/spirits, and inquiring of the dead.  Nowhere does the author say these activities are ineffective, only that they are abhorrent.  Indeed, in 1 Samuel 28:7-15, Saul successfully consults a witch to conjure up the ghost of Samuel.
  • ch. 19 requires 3 cities to be set up for manslayers to flee to, along with 3 additional cities when the territory of Israel expands.  4:44 understands the 6 cities to be 3 in Israel and 3 in Transjordan, to be set up at the same time.  Num. 35:6 agrees with 4:44 on this matter, but additionally stipulates that the cities must belong to the Levites.
  • Interestingly, Exodus 21:12-14 heavily imply that manslayers are to flee to the local altar.  Since Deuteronomy only allows one central place of worship, this law is obviously inapplicable, hence the modification from altar to city.
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