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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 35

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-5


Verses 1-5:

The Levites occupied a unique place in Israel’s society, by Divine decree. They were separated from the other tribes and listed separately in the first census, Nu 1:49. They were not allocated a territorial inheritance in the Land, Nu 18:20-24. Their livelihood was the tithes and offerings of the other tribes, Nu 18:25-32. These consisted of numerous livestock as well as grain, oil, and wine. It was necessary that the Levites have places to live, to pasture their livestock, and to store their produce. To meet this need, God provided that forty-eight cities be allocated to the Levites, when Israel possessed the Land of Canaan. These cities are listed in Jos 21. q.v.

"Suburbs," migrash, "place for driving out cattle," a fenced pasture or paddock where cattle were driven to feed during the day. This consisted of an area about two thousand cubits (3,000 feet) in each direction outward from the city walls. Half (one thousand cubits) was for their livestock, and half for their gardens.

Verses 6-8

Verses 6-8:

Six cities of the forty-eight allocated to the Levites were designated as "Cities of Refuge." These were the fulfillment of God’s promise that He would appoint a place of refuge for one. guilty of unpremeditated manslaughter, Ex 21:12-14.

Three of these cities were on the east side of Jordan, three on the west, Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Jos 20:1-9; 21:13, 21,.27, 32, 36, 38. They were strategically located so any one of them would be no more than a half day’s journey from any point in the Land. Their purpose is stated in the following verses.

Verses 9-12

Verses 9-12:

Divine Law required capital punishment for the shedding of blood, Ge 9:6. This could be legally done by two ways:

(1) Administered by established law.

(2) The next of kin, the "Avenger," goel, from gaal, "to set free from blood," could execute the manslayer.

It became custom that the nearest of kin should hunt down and kill one who had slain his near relative.

The purpose of the "Cities of Refuge" was to provide a place where the manslayer might go for sanctuary, until he could stand trial to determine his guilt or innocence.

Verses 13-21

Verses 13-21:

The provision for the "Cities of Refuge" applied alike to the native Israelite, the proselyte, or to the transient.

"Instrument of iron," refers to any weapon of metal.

"Throwing a stone," use of any stone suitable for throwing, usually by means of a slingshot, capable of inflicting a mortal wound.

"Hand weapon of wood," a club, javelin, or any other instrument of wood used as a weapon.

Use of these instruments implied a premeditated act. This made the slaying an act of murder. There was no appeal from the death penalty for this crime. The "revenger (avenger) of blood" must slay the one guilty of this crime. No formal trial was required.

This was not an act of personal revenge, which was forbidden by Divine Law, De 32:35; Ro 12:19; Heb 10:30. The "avenger of blood" was the instrument of Divine justice, executing a divine and judicial sentence upon the guilty.

Verses 22-28

Verses 22-28:

One who committed manslaughter without premeditation or malice was allowed to flee to a City of Refuge. There he could present his case before the "congregation," or representatives of the people (magistrates). If found innocent of premeditated murder, the slayer was permitted to live within the borders of the city where he found refuge. The "revenger of blood" was not allowed to harm him. He could live in safety in that city until the death of the high priest; whereupon he could return to his ancestral home, free from the threat of death at the hand of the "revenger of blood." If the slayer strayed outside of the borders of the city, the "revenger of blood" was allowed to execute him upon meeting him, without violating the law.

Verses 29-34

Verses 29-34:

The law regarding the "Cities of Refuge" was to be a perpetual one, for all future generations.

No payment of a ransom was allowed for the crime of premeditated murder. The guilty one must be executed. However, no one must be put to death upon the testimony of one witness. There must be corroborating testimony from two or more, see De 17:6; 19:15, 16. This principle was incorporated into New Testament law regarding matters other than capital punishment, Mt 18:16; 2Co 13:1; Heb 10:28; 1 Ti 5:19.

Murder is in reality a crime against God’s creation. The shedding of blood produces a corruption of the very earth itself, which cannot be expiated except by the judicial execution of the offender. This principle is as old as humanity itself, Ge 4:10; 9:6.

The "City of Refuge" is a type or picture of justification by law.

One guilty of manslaughter was delivered from death only if he could establish his innocence under the law. If guilty of premeditated murder, he must be executed. So it is with man: if he is innocent, he is protected from death. But if found guilty he is condemned to death. Scripture concludes all have sinned and are guilty before God, Ro 3:23. The sinner is delivered from the penalty of death by One who dies in his place. That one is Jesus. Tit 2:13, 14.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 35". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-35.html. 1985.
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