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Numbers 35:4-5 . A thousand cubits on the east side two thousand cubits. A line of one thousand cubits extending from the centre of the city, east, west, north, and south, would make each side of the square two thousand cubits. This would make the levites happy in gardens, and convenient retreats. God would have his ministers easy in domestic cares, that they may care for the church alone; and from the care he takes of his ministers, they may learn what care they ought to take of his flock.
Numbers 35:24 . The congre g ation shall judge; that is, the elders surrounded by the people, as appears from Deuteronomy 19:12.
Numbers 35:25 . He shall abide in it to the death of the highpriest, who was regarded as the spiritual father of all Israel; and while a man was mourning for the death of a father, he could not think of avenging a case of manslaughter with the blood of a brother.
Numbers 35:33 . Blood defileth the land. Therefore it must be purged by the blood of him that shed it. This principle seems fully to justify the war against Amalek and Moab. By consequence every man-slayer was tried by the elders in the gate, before he could be admitted to the asylum.
The Lord having made the levites comfortable by the tithe, and by forty eight cities, next made them protectors of the man who might have the calamity to kill his neighbour without design. Three cities of refuge lay to the east, and three to the west of the Jordan, and almost parallel with its stream. It was the business of the sanhedrim, says Maimonides, as quoted by Dr. Lightfoot, to keep the roads of those cities in good repair, and thirty two cubits wide. No hillock, or river destitute of a bridge was allowed; and at every cross or parting road, the word Refuge, Refuge, was inscribed on a finger post in large letters. Maccoth, as quoted above, says, that the mother of the highpriest used to feed and clothe the manslayers, that they might not pray for the death of her son. It is also added, that if a man slew the highpriest, he was never more to return to his place. And surely this law has been awfully enforced against the Jews for slaying the Lord of glory. We may farther observe, that the refuge provided for men guilty of homicide, was highly expressive of the refuge which God has provided in Christ and the church, for poor sinners. See that soul awakened and alarmed by the terrors of the law. A life of folly and sin stands unveiled to his view. He grieves for having grieved the Lord, but he can no more undo his sin than the man-slayer could restore his neighbour to life, though he would give all the world to do it. See, on the other hand, justice, as the avenger of blood, brandishing her sword against the offender, and menacing his soul with death. What shall the sinner do? Whether can he flee; where can he find a refuge, when heaven is the assailant? Let him now turn his eyes, hopeless and desponding as he is, to Christ crucified for sinners. He has died the death for man, he has disarmed the terrors of justice, and now opens the refuge of his wounded side to receive the penitent and believing soul. In him we have redemption, mercy, and love. In him we have the new covenant, branching forth with a thousand promises; a covenant confirmed by an oath to Abraham, that by virtue of two immutable things, the promise and oath of God, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. Hebrews 6:18. See not only the Saviour, but likewise the church, with her arms and her gates extended to receive the poor and afflicted sinner. Here is a sanctuary, not in Hebron, not in Shechem, or Kadesh, but in “Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and God is known in her palaces for a refuge.”
The way to the city was plain, and the distance short. When a man is not in a proper frame to be blest, conversion seems difficult, or impossible. But when the mind is deeply impressed, God is easy of access. The sinner has but to ask, and he shall receive; but to seek, and he shall find. He may come with all his misery to obtain mercy, with all his wants to be supplied. The way is so plain, that he who runs may read; and the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.
It was a consciousness of the sure approach of danger, which drove the manslayer to the sanctuary. The case is parallel with the sinner. While a man fancies himself safe in his sins; while he believes that the evil day is distant, or shall never come; while health and affluence smile around, he glides with the stream, and despises fear. But let him remember, that heaven is already armed against the guilty; that the tempest sometimes bursts at noon; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when we are not aware. No man could take refuge in those cities in his sins, no murderer could find a sanctuary there; and even in a case of chancemedley, when a man fell by an accidental blow, his case was cautiously heard. Here the superior glory and liberty of the gospel appear over the law. Sinners of the foulest class may find life and refuge in Christ, provided they hate and renounce their sins; provided their repentance is accompanied with all the fruits of restitution and reparation in their power, and with the purest purposes of piety for the future. Oh how happy is the sinner, sheltered in the arms and protected with the covenant of God. Let him for ever abide in his refuge, for his Highpriest having once died, liveth for ever in glory with the Father. If he leave this city, the divine justice is ready to punish his apostasy, and all his former sins.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 35". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19