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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Numbers 35

Introduction

NUMBERS CHAPTER 35

Eight and forty cities given to the Levites, together with their suburbs; among which six cities of refuge, for an Israelite or stranger who had killed another unawares, Numbers 35:1-15.

Wilful murder decided, and the murderer to be put to death, Numbers 35:16-21.

The man-slayer must abide in the city of refuge till the death of the high priest; and if caught out of it, might be killed, Numbers 35:25-29.

Two witnesses required to condemn a man to die, Numbers 35:30.

No satisfaction to be taken for the life of a murderer, Numbers 35:31, nor that any one might return from a city of refuge before the time, Numbers 35:32; that the land be not defiled and polluted, and not cleansed of the blood shed in it, Numbers 35:33,Numbers 35:34.

Verse 3

For their cattle; for pasturage for their cattle; where they might not build houses, nor plant gardens, orchards, or vineyards, no, nor sow corn, for which they were abundantly provided out of the first-fruits and tithes. And these suburbs did not belong to the Levites in common, but were distributed to them in convenient proportions, as may appear from Joshua 21:18; 1 Chronicles 6:60.

Verse 4

Object. In the next verse it is

two thousand. How do these agree?

Answ. 1. LXX. interpreters read both here and Numbers 35:5 two thousand cubits, whence some suppose this to be an error in the Hebrew text, which, being in a matter neither concerning faith nor good manners, is not prejudicial to the authority of the Holy Scriptures.

Answ. 2. The one thousand cubits may be in length from the city, and the two thousand cubits in breadth on each side of the city, and so they well agree; for a line of a thousand cubits being draw in length eastward, and another westward, and another northward, and another southward, a line drawn at a thousand cubits distance from the city, from east to west, must needs contain two thousand cubits, and so must the other line from north to south, and so on every side of the city there must be two thousand cubits.

Answ. 3. This verse and the next do not speak to the same thing: this speaks of the space or place from whence the suburbs shall be measured, the next verse speaks of the space unto which that measure shall be extended; and the words may very well be read thus, And the suburbs—shall be (so it is only an ellipsis of the verb substantive, which is most frequent, and the meaning is, shall be taken or accounted)

from the wall of the city, and from (that particle being supplied or understood from the foregoing words, which is very usual) without it, or, from the outward parts of it, (which being a general and indefinite expression is limited and explained by the following words,) even from

a thousand cubits round about; which are mentioned not as the thing measured, for as yet there is not a word of measuring, but as the term or space from which the measuring line should begin. And then it follows, Numbers 35:5, And ye shall measure from without the city (not from the wall of the city, as was said before, Numbers 35:4, but from without it, i.e. from the said outward part or space of a thousand cubits without the wall of the city round about) on the east side two thousand cubits, &c. So in truth there were three thousand cubits from the wall of the city, whereof one thousand probably were for out-houses, stalls for cattle, gardens, vineyards, and olive-yards, and the like, and the other two thousand for pasture, which are therefore called the field of the suburbs, Leviticus 25:34, by way of distinction from the suburbs themselves, which consist of the first thousand cubits from the wall of the city.

Verse 6

For refuge, or, of receipt, or escape, or resort, to wit, for man-slayers; and these cities are assigned among the

Levites, partly, because they might be presumed to be the most proper and impartial judges between man-slayers and wilful murderers; partly, because their presence, and counsel, and authority would more effectually bridle the passions of the avenger of blood who might pursue him thither; and partly, to signify that it is only in Christ (whom the Levitical priests did represent) that sinners find refuge and safety from the destroyer. The names of these cities, we have Deuteronomy 4:41,Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:8.

For the man-slayer, such as is here described, Numbers 35:11,Numbers 35:15,Numbers 35:22,Numbers 35:23.

Verse 8

Ye shall give many: compare Numbers 33:54; Joshua 20:2.

Verse 11

i.e. Not wilfully, designedly, or maliciously, but inconsiderately, through mistake, or indiscretion, or carelessness. See Leviticus 4:2.

Verse 12

The avenger, to wit, of the party slain, or, of blood, as it is fully expressed below, Numbers 35:19,Numbers 35:25; Heb. from the redeemer, or, from the next kinsman, to whom by the law belonged the right of redemption of the lands of, and vindication of the injury done to the person deceased.

Die not, i.e. be not killed by the avenger meeting him in some other place.

Before the congregation, i.e. before the society or convention of judges or elders, who were appointed in every city for the decision of criminal causes, who were twenty-three, who were to examine the matter, and that publicly before the people, whether the murder was wilful or casual.

Quest. In what city was this cause to be tried?

Answ. Some say in the city of refuge, others say in the city in or near which the fact was committed. It seems to me it was done in both, at first in the city of refuge, as is manifest in Joshua 20:4; but if that trial and sentence did not satisfy the avenger of blood, it was fully and finally determined in the other city, as is sufficiently evident both by comparing this place with Numbers 35:25; Joshua 20:6, and from the usual and most reasonable course of justice, which is that facts should be examined, as far as may be, in or near the places where they were committed, and where the witnesses and evidences were at hand. In judgment, or, for judgment, i. e. to receive sentence there according to the nature of the fact.

Verse 14

On this side Jordan; because that land was as long as Canaan, though not so broad, and besides these might be convenient for many of them that lived in Canaan.

Verse 15

For the stranger; not the proselyte only, but all strangers, this being no matter of religious privilege, but of common right, and agreeable to the law of nature and practice of wise heathens.

Verse 16

If he smite him, wittingly and wilfully, though not with premeditated malice or design, as appears by comparing this with Numbers 35:20-23.

So that he die, to wit, suddenly, not so if he walked abroad afterward, Exodus 21:19,Exodus 21:20.

Shall surely be put to death; yea, though he were fled into the city of refuge.

Verse 17

With throwing a stone, Heb. with the stone of the hand, i.e. cast by the hand, and that knowingly, as appears by Numbers 35:23.

Verse 19

Either,

1. By himself, as the following words show: so it is only a permission, that he may do it without offence to God or danger to himself. Or,

2. By the magistrate, from whom he shall demand justice: so it is a command, as may appear by comparing this with Numbers 35:31; Deuteronomy 19:12,Deuteronomy 19:13.

Verse 22

Suddenly; through sudden passion or provocation. Or, by chance, or unawares.

Verse 24

If the man-slayer flee to the city of refuge.

Verse 25

He shall abide in it, be confined to it, partly to show the hatefulness of wilful murder in God’s account by so severe a punishment, as this in many cases might prove, inflicted upon the very appearance of it; and partly for the security of the man-slayer, lest the presence of such a person, and his conversation among the kindred of the deceased, might occasion reproach and bloodshed.

Unto the death of the high priest; partly because the public grief for the loss of so public a person was likely to assuage the private griefs and passions of men, the rather, because by this example they were minded of their own mortality, and thereby withheld from taking vengeance; and principally to show that the death of Christ (the true High Priest, whom the others did evidently and eminently represent and typify) is the only mean whereby sins are pardoned, and sinners are set at liberty.

Verse 27

i.e. Not liable to punishment from men, though not free from guilt before God, because he kills an innocent person, as appears from Deuteronomy 19:10. This God ordained to oblige the man-slayer to abide in his city of refuge. See Numbers 35:32.

Verse 30

No judge shall condemn any man to death upon a single testimony.

Verse 31

No intercession nor ransom shall be accepted to save his life, or procure him a pardon.

Verse 32

Whereby God would signify the absolute and indispensable necessity of Christ’s death to expiate sin, and to redeem the sinner.

Verse 33

These words are added as a reason not of the last law, Numbers 35:32, for in that case the land was cleansed without the blood of the man-slayer. but of the law next foregoing that, Numbers 35:31, in which case it holds; and the sense is, If you shall spare the murderer, or take any satisfaction for him, you do together with yourselves involve your land and people in guilt, and will certainly bring down God’s vengeance upon yourselves and them.

Verse 34

Be not cruel to your own land by making it a den of murderers.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 35". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/numbers-35.html. 1685.