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CITIES GIVEN TO THE LEVITES
The Levites had no tribal possession, but were to be scattered among the tribes so as to serve and teach the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 33:10). Therefore the tribes were required to give cities to the Levites where they might have tribes were required to give cities to the Levites where they might have land around the cities where they could care for their livestock (vs.1-3). Among these cities six were to be appointed as cities of refuge (v.6), and 42 were to be added to these, making 48 in all. The number of cities in each tribe depended on the size of the tribe, some having more, some having less to give to the Levites (vs.7-8). The Levites being present in all the tribes ought to have served to maintain unity in Israel, through their presence did not preserve the tribes from division in the time of Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1-23). In fact, sad to say, there seemed to be little realization among the Levites themselves of the great dignity conferred on them in being chosen by God for the work given them, and rather than being drawn together in unity, we see in the book of judges an independent spirit in Levites that only sought their own will (Judges 17:7-13; Judges 19:1-2).
SIX CITIES OF REFUGE
Verse 6 has told us these six cities belonged to the Levites. The name of these cities are found inJoshua 20:1-9; Joshua 20:1-9. A refuge was in this way provided for one who had accidentally killed a person, for it might well be that a relative or friend of the victim would seek retaliation by killing the person responsible. In that city that person would be safe until such time as there was an investigation into the case. If it proved to be a case of actual murder, he must be delivered up to the avenger (vs..9-12).
Three of the cities were to be appointed on the east of the Jordan River and three on the west (v.14). But a deliberate murderer could not count on the protection of the city of refuge. If one struck another with an iron instrument, or stone or wooden weapon purposely, this was murder and the murderer was to be sentenced to death (vs.16-18). In fact, the avenger of blood was to put the murderer to death (v.19).
If a case was not fully clear as to whether there was intent to cause harm or not, when the manslayer came to the city of refuge, "then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments" (v.24). "There judgments" involve the question of whether the case was one of murder, as seen in verses 16-21, or whether it was unintentional manslaughter, as in verses 22-23.
The slayer was safe inside the city until this judgment took place. Then, if the person was found guilty of murder he was to be delivered to the avenger of blood, who was to put him to death. If not found guilty, he was to be allowed to remain in the city of refuge without fear of death. Then he must remain there until the death of the high priest, for if found outside the city, the avenger of blood was allowed to kill him.
After the death of the high priest he could return to his own home, and would be safe from any reprisal by the avenger of blood (vs.25-28).
All of this emphasizes God's care for the life of mankind. But there is here also a typical lesson as regards Israel's guilt in the death of the Lord Jesus. While on the cross He pled, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Thus, Israel was given the benefit of whatever doubt there might be, not considered as guilty of murder but of unintentional manslaughter. Certainly there were some who proved to be murderers, as Stephen witnesses inActs 7:52; Acts 7:52. However, for centuries now Israel has been allowed to remain in a refuge and will not be free until the time typified by the death of the high priest.
In the Numerical Bible (Numbers -- Page 519) F.W.Grant writes, "Through shut out from their inheritance in the meantime, the time will come in which they (Israel) shall be restored to it. And that time will be when the priesthood of the Lord as now exercised in heaven shall be at an end, and He shall come forth, Priest and King in one, to bring in the times of the restitution of which the prophets speak. This, then, would seem to answer to the death of the high priest, while it may be none the less true that His being 'anointed with the holy oil' here points Him out as the One whose work has been to make atonement. The special high priestly work of 'the day of atonement' would seem referred to, with its ordinance of the scapegoat and its blessing for Israel, when He who went into the holy place comes forth. It is on the day of atonement that the trumpet of jubilee sounds, and every man returns to his possession."
In the New Testament the willful murderer, even today, is indicated inHebrews 10:26; Hebrews 10:26: "If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation." Verse 29 shows this refers to one who "has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace." One therefore who has a malicious attitude toward the Lord Jesus, after having been intellectually enlightened as to Christ's own character, shows himself guilty of the murder of the Son of God.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 35". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16