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The Levitical Cities. The Cities of Refugie
1-8. The Levitical Cities.
The tribe of Levi received no part of the land of Canaan as their inheritance (Numbers 18:20-24; Numbers 26:62). By way of compensation they received the tithes for their support (Numbers 18:21). It is here further provided that 48 cities with their suburbs be allotted to them out of the inheritance of the other tribes, for the maintenance of themselves and their herds. The carrying out of this injunction is recorded in Joshua 21, where it is also noted that the priests (the sons of Aaron) received 13 of these cities (Numbers 35:4). The people, as well as the priests and Levites, benefited by this arrangement, for the latter being dispersed throughout the land were able to instruct the people in the law and worship of God. On the duty of the priests and Levites to teach the people see Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 33:10; 2 Chronicles 19:8-10. It would appear that the law of the Levitical cities was never strictly carried into practice.
4, 5. There is a difficulty in understanding these measurements. Perhaps the simplest explanation is to say that the area of the city itself is disregarded. The city being conceived as a mathematical point, 1,000 cubits measured on either side give a square 2,000 cubits in the side. The Greek version has 2,000 cubits in Numbers 35:4. If this is right there is no difficulty at all. The city would be surrounded on all sides by a strip of land 2,000 cubits in width.
6, 9-15. The Cities of Refuge. (See also Deuteronomy 19:1-3; Joshua 20.) In primitive times, before the machinery of justice was organised, the duty of avenging a murder devolved upon the nearest relative of the murdered person. Duty required him to pursue the murderer and slay him with his own hand. This law was not repealed by Moses, but certain restrictions were placed upon it in the interests of humanity and justice. Of the Levitical cities, six were marked out as Cities of Refuge to which a man who had killed another accidentally (Numbers 35:11, Numbers 35:22-25) might flee and be safe from the ’avenger of blood.’ This provision did not apply to wilful murderers, who were not to escape the death penalty (Numbers 35:16-21). The names of the cities are given in Joshua 20:7, Joshua 20:8. Three were on the W. side of Jordan and three on the E. The reason why Levitical cities were selected for this purpose was, not merely that these were regarded as possessing a sacred character, but that they were inhabited by men who knew the law, and who could decide in doubtful cases between wilful murder and accidental homicide (Numbers 35:24; Deuteronomy 19:12, Deuteronomy 19:17). Deuteronomy 19:3 provides that the principal roads leading to these cities of refuge be kept open, so that the innocent fugitive might have every facility in reaching the place of sanctuary (see note there). For the Christian application of this law of asylum see on Numbers 35:25.
12. Stand before the congregation] As a wilful murderer might flee to one of these cities in the hope of escaping with his life, a trial must be held to ascertain whether the murder was wilful or accidental.
16-21. If the trial shows that the murder was committed wilfully, the murderer is to be handed over for execution at the hands of the avenger of blood.
22-29. If the trial shows that the murder was accidental (see Deuteronomy 19:4-5) the murderer’s life is spared. But he must stay within the bounds of the city till the death of the high priest, when he is at liberty to go. If he stray outside the bounds before that time he does so at the peril of his own life. 25. Unto the death of the high priest] The amnesty declared to the man-slayer on the death of the high priest, which marks the close of one period and the beginning of a new, is an appropriate symbol of that redemption from the sins of the past wrought by Christ, and that new life of liberty into which they enter who believe in Him: cp. Hebrews 6:18-20.
30-32. Murder is such a serious crime that it cannot be atoned for by the payment of a money fine; nor can the man who has unintentionally killed another purchase his release from the city of refuge before the death of the high priest. St. Peter reminds Christians that they were not redeemed with silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Numbers 35". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19