This verse shows God’s desire that cities of refuge be established throughout the land once the Israelites had conquered and settled the land of Canaan. Any person who caused the accidental death of another could seek refuge in one of these cities until it was determined through due process what punishment, if any, should be levied against him.
In Old Testament times, the people lived under a “life for life” rule. Any person who caused the death of another was to be sought our and killed by the relatives of the victim. A city of refuge offered asylum for the perpetrator in cases of accidental death.
Different types of axes were used by the Israelites. The heads of some lighter axes were fastened to the axe handle with strips of leather. But the axe described in this verse must have been a heavy-duty version used for cutting down trees and hewing timbers. The axe head slipped over the end of the handle, much like our modern axes.
DEUTERONOMY 19:5 – As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live: