|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
21:12-21 God, who by his providence gives and maintains life, by his law protects it. A wilful murderer shall be taken even from God's altar. But God provided cities of refuge to protect those whose unhappiness it was, and not their fault, to cause the death of another; for such as by accident, when a man is doing a lawful act, without intent of hurt, happens to kill another. Let children hear the sentence of God's word upon the ungrateful and disobedient; and remember that God will certainly requite it, if they have ever cursed their parents, even in their hearts, or have lifted up their hands against them, except they repent, and flee for refuge to the Saviour. And let parents hence learn to be very careful in training up their children, setting them a good example, especially in the government of their passions, and in praying for them; taking heed not to provoke them to wrath. Through poverty the Israelites sometimes sold themselves or their children; magistrates sold some persons for their crimes, and creditors were in some cases allowed to sell their debtors who could not pay. But man-stealing, the object of which is to force another into slavery, is ranked in the New Testament with the greatest crimes. Care is here taken, that satisfaction be made for hurt done to a person, though death do not follow. The gospel teaches masters to forbear, and to moderate threatenings, Eph 6:9, considering with Job, What shall I do, when God riseth up? Job 31:13,14.
Verses 12-14. - Homicide. Ver. 12 reiterates the Sixth Commandment, and adds to it a temporal penalty - "he shall surely be put to death." The substance of this law had already been given to Noah in the words, "Whoso sheddeth man' s blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6). Real murder, with deliberate intent, was under no circumstances to be pardoned. The murderer was even to be torn from the altar, if he took refuge there, and relentlessly punished (ver. 14). See the case of Joab (1 Kings 2:28-34). But, if a man happened suddenly upon his enemy, without having sought the opportunity, and slew him (ver. 13), then the case was one not of murder, but at most of manslaughter, or possibly of justifiable homicide. No legal penalty was assigned to such offences. They were left to the rude justice of established custom, which required "the avenger of blood" to visit them with due retribution. According to the general practice of the Eastern nations, he might either insist on life for life or take a money compensation. With this custom, deeply ingrained into the minds of the Oriental people, the law did not meddle. It was content to interpose between the avenger of blood and his victim the chance of reaching an asylum. Places were appointed, whither the shedder of blood might flee, and where he might be safe until his cause was tried before the men of his own city (Numbers 35:22-25), and afterwards, if the judgment were in his favour. Some particular part of the camp was probably made an asylum in the wilderness.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
He that smiteth a man, so that he die,.... The Targum of Jonathan is, that smites a man or daughter of Israel with the sword; but there is no need to restrain the words either to persons of any certain nation, nor to any instrument with which a person may be smitten as to die: but any human person, man, woman, or child, of whatsoever nation, and they smitten with anything whatever, that issues in their death:
shall surely be put to death; by the order of the civil magistrate, and by the hand of such as shall be appointed by him; for this is the original law of God, Genesis 9:6.
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