Scriptures

Numbers 35

Introduction

‘On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the LORD said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals. “The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits from the town wall. Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the centre. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.’ Numbers 35:1-5

Towns For The Levites

This chapter begins by addressing the Levites and because they were given no inheritance of land, God was their inheritance, Numbers 18:20, However, they were given cities in which to live and pasture lands that surrounded the cities.

There were to be a total of 48 cities for the Levites, six cities of refuge, and 42 additional cities.

Cities Of Refuge

‘Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.” Then the LORD said to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly. These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.’ Numbers 35:6-15

Cities of refuge were established in reference to the civil laws of the nation and six of the cities were given to the Levites. There were three were on the west side of the Jordan and three were on the east side.

Coffman, in his commentary, gives us a useful summary.

West Of Jordan

Kedesh in Galilee from the tribe of Naphtali.

Shechem from the tribe of Ephraim.

Hebron, Kiriath-Arba, from the tribe of Judah.

East Of Jordan

Bezer from the tribe of Reuben.

Ramoth-Gilead of the tribe of Gad.

Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Manasseh.

The cities are mentioned in Exodus 21 / Numbers 35 / Deuteronomy 19 / Joshua 20. Roads leading to these cities were kept in excellent condition, with signposts reading, ‘Refuge! Refuge!’ The cities were no more than half a day’s journey from any other city, Joshua 20:7-8.

The cities were in central locations where they could easily be reached from any part of the country. The cities of refuge were open to all and the doors into the cities were never locked. The cities were stocked with food and there was no protection if a man did not flee to a city of refuge.

Similarities Between Christ And The Cities

Christ is easy to reach and Christ is open to all. Christ never locks His gates and Christ is a totally sufficient refuge. If we do not flee to Christ, there is no help for us.

Back then cities of refuge had meaning to their names, Shechem means, shoulder or back or strength, Hebron means fellowship, Kedesh means holy, sanctuary, Golan means joy, exultation, Ramoth means high, exalted and Bezer means fortification, stronghold. Now, what do you need in your life by way of a place of refuge?

These cities were places where someone who accidentally killed someone else could flee for safety from the vengeance of a near kinsman of the person who was accidentally killed.

The principle behind these cities is based on the law of the avenger who could avenge the death of a relative who was killed. The next of kin had the right to avenge the death of a relative.

Unless the avenging relative acted out of the heat of the moment when a relative was accidentally killed, the attacker could escape to a city of refuge until a judgment could be made, Genesis 9:6.

‘If anyone strikes someone a fatal blow with an iron object, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. Or if anyone is holding a stone and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. Or if anyone is holding a wooden object and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death. If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at them intentionally so that they die or if out of enmity one person hits another with their fist so that the other dies, that person is to be put to death; that person is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when they meet. “‘But if without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended, the assembly must judge between the accused and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send the accused back to the city of refuge to which they fled. The accused must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.’ Numbers 35:16-25

In these verses we read about the classifications for those who had a right to flee to the cities of refuge. There was a difference between manslaughter, that is someone who accidentally killed someone else, and an actual murderer. The difference between the two is based upon intent.

The murderer was someone who intentionally killed someone else, whereas the manslaughterer was someone who had no such intent, but unintentionally did kill someone. Only those who accidentally killed someone was able to flee to the cities of refuge. Other laws applied to the one who intentionally murdered someone else.

If someone was killed by using a weapon, a weapon made of iron, stone or wood, then this would be classed as murder. If a murder took place, the avenger could kill the murderer on the spot. This same law applied to those who out of hatred killed another.

Anyone who killed someone accidentally, were dealt with differently. They could flee to the city of refuge in order to escape the vengeance of a near relative. However, if anyone exercised the privilege of escaping to a refuge city, they had to stay in the city until the high priest died.

‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which they fled and the avenger of blood finds them outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. The accused must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may they return to their own property. “‘This is to have the force of law for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live. “‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. “‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death. “‘Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow them to go back and live on their own land before the death of the high priest. “‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’” Numbers 35:26-34

If that same person who killed someone accidently decided to go outside of the city of refuge before the high priest died, then the near relative of the one who was killed, could kill them without any guilt.

If the high priest died, the one who accidently killed someone could return to his family, and the near relative had no right to avenge the death of his relative.

Notice that capital punishment could only be carried out when more than one witness could testify to the fact that murder was committed, Deuteronomy 17:6-7.

No amount of money could be paid to free the one who was guilty of murder, neither could any amount of money be paid in order that any who accidently killed someone could leave a city of refuge before the death of the high priest.

The death penalty was given in order to keep society pure of the sickness of murderers. Once someone murders someone else, then the land is defiled by those who have no value for life.

The death penalty, therefore, was God’s way of keeping society clean from moral decay in reference to anyone who had no value for life, Genesis 9:6.

Go To Numbers 36

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

Romans 10:17

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