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The Cities of the Levites
v. 1. And the Lord spake unto Moses in the Plains of Moab by Jordan, near Jericho, saying,
v. 2. Command the children of Israel that they give unto the Levites of the Inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in, for the Levites, as a tribe, received no special territory in the land of Canaan, Numbers 18:20-23; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them, meadows, pasture-land for their herds and flocks, fields which could not be sold, but remained the permanent and inalienable property of the Levites, Leviticus 25:34. This does not hold true of the cities themselves, for in these it was only the houses that were given to the Levites, in regard to which the Lord had provided that they could be redeemed at any time after being sold and should always be returned to the original owners or their heirs in the Year of Jubilee, Leviticus 25:32-33.
v. 3. And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs, the meadows, the pasture-land, of them shall be for their cattle and for their goods and tor all their beasts.
v. 4. And the suburbs of the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites shall reach from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about, that is, measuring directly from the city wall in a straight line.
v. 5. And ye shall measure from without the city, from its wall or boundary, on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits; and the city shall be in the midst, and the place occupied by it should not enter into the calculations; this shall be to them the suburbs of the cities.
v. 6. And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, to the man who unintentionally takes his neighbor's life, that he may flee thither; and to them ye shall add forty and two cities, making a total of forty-eight.
v. 7. So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities; them shall ye give with their suburbs.
v. 8. And the cities which ye shall give shall be of the possession of the children of Israel, selected from the territory apportioned to the tribes; from them that have many ye shall give many; but from them that have few ye shall give few; every one shall give of his cities unto the Levites according to his inheritance which he inheriteth. As the plan worked out afterward, Joshua 21, there were ten cities of the Levites in the country east of the Jordan and thirty-eight in Canaan proper. By living in the midst of all the tribes, the Levites were to be an example to the entire nation, continually reminding them of their divine call and of the covenant of Jehovah, so that the fear of the Lord might be maintained in Israel.
Regulations Concerning the Cities of Refuge
v. 9. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
v. 10. Speak unto the children of Israel and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan,
v. 11. then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the slayer may flee thither which killeth any person at unawares, by error, inadvertently, without premeditation or malice.
v. 12. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger (of blood), that the manslayer die not until he stand before the congregation in judgment and be able to clear himself of the charge of malicious murder.
v. 13. And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge.
v. 14. Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, in the territory of the two and one half tribes, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.
v. 15. These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that every one that killeth any person unawares, unintentionally, may flee thither. These regulations are still further expanded in Deuteronomy 19:1-13, especially with regard to the avenger of blood, for so the nearest relative of any person to whom an injustice had been done was called. By God's permission such a person was empowered to revenge a wrong, even to the extent of putting a slayer to death, the present precept regulating the custom. There follow regulations concerning the legal process in the case of manslaughter.
v. 16. And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
v. 17. And if he smite him with throwing a stone, with a stone large enough to fill the hand, and therefore presumably heavy enough to cause death, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
v. 18. Or if he smite him with an hand-weapon of wood, one whose holding requires the full size of the hand, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
v. 19. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer; when he meeteth him, he shall slay him. In these three cases, where a heavy iron instrument, an ax or hammer, a large stone, or a heavy wooden tool or cudgel was used in striking down the neighbor, the evidence that he deliberately took the neighbor's life was considered conclusive from the outset.
v. 20. But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, with deliberate intent, that he die,
v. 21. or in enmity smite him with his hand that he die, he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer; the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer when he meeteth him, the elders of the city of refuge in that case being obliged to deliver the murderer to the avenger of blood, Deuteronomy 19:11-12.
v. 22. But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, without a previous quarrel, or have cast upon him anything without laying of wait, without malicious intention,
v. 23. or with any stone wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him that he die, as might happen, for instance, during the building of a house, and was not his enemy, neither sought his. harm, had absolutely no intention of hurting him,
v. 24. then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments, according to the regulations as contained in this Chapter;
v. 25. and the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, save his life by preventing his execution by the hand of the revenger, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, grant him safe-conduct to this haven of safety, whither he was fled, for the trial, of course, took place in his own city; and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest which was anointed with the holy oil, the incumbent of the office at the time of the trial. The death of the high priest thus released him from his banishment.
v. 26. But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled, where he enjoyed the protection of the Levites under the provisions of this law,
v. 27. and the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer, he (the revenger) shall not be guilty of blood, shall not be considered a murderer,
v. 28. because he (the slayer) should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land. of his possession, to his own inheritance in the midst of his tribe, since his life was now safeguarded by the Law of God.
v. 29. So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings, these precepts belonged to the ordinances which should remain in power as long as the nation of Israel endured.
v. 30. Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses, their testimony being needed to convict him; but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. Where the life of a person was in jeopardy, the testimony of a single person, no matter how trustworthy he might be otherwise, should not be deemed sufficient for conviction. Cf Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15.
v. 31. Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer which is guilty of death, he could not save his life by paying a sum of money as ransom; but he shall be surely put to death.
v. 32. And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest; no payment of money should procure for him a release from his banishment.
v. 33. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are, by sparing the life of a murderer, due to false sentiment or the acceptance of bribe money; for blood, it defileth the land, namely, that shed in willful murder; and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein but by the blood of him that shed it, Genesis 9:6; only by this expiation is the justice of God satisfied.
v. 34. Defile not, therefore, the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell; for I, the Lord, dwell among the children of Israel, and every desecration of the land would call forth His avenging justice, Leviticus 18:25. Although this special precept belongs to the Levitical Law of the Old Testament, it would be well for legislative bodies and executives, in our country especially, to lay aside the false sentimentalism which spares the lives of murderers and has proved itself a curse to the nation.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 35". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19