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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 33

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-49



Numbers 33:1

These are the journeys. The Hebrew word מַסְעֵי is rendered σταθμοί by the Septuagint, which means "stages" or "stations." It is, however, quite rightly translated "journeys," for it is the act of setting out and marching from such a place to such another which the word properly denotes (cf. Genesis 13:3; Deuteronomy 10:11).

Numbers 33:2

And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the Lord. The latter clause (עַל־פִי יְהֹוָה) may be taken as equivalent to an adjective qualifying the noun "goings out," signifying only that their marches were made under the orders of God himself. It is more natural to read it with the verb "wrote;" and in that case we have a direct assertion that Moses wrote this list of marches himself by command of God, doubtless as a memorial not only of historical interest, but of deep religious significance, as showing how Israel had been led by him who is faithful and true faithful in keeping his promise, true in fulfilling his word for good or for evil. The direct statement that Moses wrote this list himself is strongly corroborated by internal evidence, and has been accepted as substantially true by the most destructive critics. No conceivable inducement could have existed to invent a list of marches which only partially corresponds with the historical account, and can only with difficulty be reconciled with it—a list which contains many names nowhere else occurring, and having no associations for the later Israelites. Whether the statement thus introduced tells in favour of the Mosaic authorship (as usually accepted) of the rest of the Book is a very different matter, on which see the Introduction.

Numbers 33:3

They departed from Rameses. Hebrew, Raemses. See on Exodus 1:11; Exo 12:1-51 :87. The brief description here given of the departure from Egypt touches upon every material circumstance as related at large in Exo 11:1-10 :41. In the sight of all the Egyptians. The journey was begun by night (Exodus 12:42), but was of course con-tinned on the following day.

Numbers 33:4

Buried all their first-born, which the Lord had smitten among them. Literally, "were burying those whom the Lord had smitten among them, viz; all the first-born." The fact that the Egyptians were so universally employed about the funeral rites of their first-born—rites to which they paid such extreme attention—seems to be mentioned here as supplying one reason at least why the Israelites began their outward march without opposition. It is in perfect accordance with what we know of the Egyptians, that all other passions and interests should give place for the time to the necessary care for the departed. Upon their gods also the Lord executed judgments. See on Exodus 12:12, and cf. Isaiah 19:1. The false deities of Egypt, having no existence except in the imaginations of men, could only be affected within the sphere of those imaginations, i.e; by being made contemptible in the eyes of those who feared them.

Numbers 33:6

Etham. See on Exodus 13:20.

Numbers 33:7

Pi-hahiroth. Hebrew, "Hahi-roth," without the prefix. See on Exodus 14:2.

Numbers 33:8

In the wilderness of Etham. This is called the wilderness of Shur in Exodus 15:22, nor is it easy to explain the occurrence of the name Etham in this connection, for the Etham mentioned in Exodus 15:6 lay on the other side of the Red Sea. We do not, however, know what physical changes have taken place since that time, and it is quite possible that at Etham there may have been a ford, or some other easy means of communication, so that the strip of desert along the opposite shore came to be known as the wilderness of Etham.

Numbers 33:9

Elim. See on Exodus 15:27.

Numbers 33:10

Encamped by the Red Sea. This encampment, like those at Dophkah and at Alush (Numbers 33:13), is not mentioned in the narrative of Exodus. The phraseology, however, used in Exodus 16:1; Exodus 17:1 leaves abundant room for intermediate halting-places, at which it is to be presumed that nothing very noteworthy happened Nothing whatever is known of these three stations.

Numbers 33:15

The wilderness of Sinai. See on Exodus 19:1.

Numbers 33:17

Kibroth-hattaavah … Hazeroth. See on Numbers 11:34, Numbers 11:35.

Numbers 33:18

Rithmah. Comparing this verso with Numbers 12:16 and Numbers 13:26, it would appear as if Rithmah were the station "in the wilderness of Paran" from which the spies went up, and to which they returned—a station subsequently known by the name of Kadesh. There are two difficulties in the way of this identification. In the first place we should then only have three names of stations between Sinai and the southern border of Palestine, on what is at least eleven days' journey. This is, however, confessedly the case in the historical narrative, and it admits of explanation. We know that the first journey was a three days' journey (Numbers 10:33), and the others may have been longer still, through a country which presented no facilities for encamping, and possessed no variety of natural features. In the second place, Rithmah is not Kadesh, and cannot be connected with Kadesh except through a doubtful identification with the Wady Retemat in the neighbourhood of Ain Kudes (see note at end of Numbers 13:1-33). It is, however, evident from Numbers 12:16, as compared with Numbers 13:26, that Kadesh was not the name originally given to the encampment "in the wilderness of Paran." It seems to have got that name—perhaps owing to some popular feeling with respect to an ancient sanctuary, perhaps owing to some partial shifting of the camp—during the absence of the spies. Rithmah, therefore, may well have been the official name (so to speak) originally given to the encampment, but subsequently superseded by the more famous name of Kadesh; this would explain both its non-appearance in the narrative of Numbers, and its appearance in the Itinerary here.

Numbers 33:19

Rimmon-parez. The latter part of the name is the same as parats or perets, which commonly signifies a breaking out of Divine anger. This place may possibly have been the scene of the events related in Numbers 16:1-50, Numbers 17:1-13, but the Targum of Palestine connects them with Kehelathah.

Numbers 33:20

Libnah. Hebrew לִבְנָה ("whiteness") may perhaps be the same as the Laban (לָבָן, "white") mentioned in Deuteronomy 1:1. So many places, however, in that region are distinguished by the dazzling whiteness of their limestone cliffs that the identification is quite uncertain. The site of this, as of the next eight stations, is indeed utterly unknown; and the guesses which are founded on the partial and probably accidental similarity of some modern names (themselves differently pronounced by different travelers) are utterly worthless. Of these eight names, Kehelathah and Makheloth seem to be derived from קָהָל, "an assembling," and thus give some slight support to the supposition that during the thirty-eight years the people were scattered abroad, and only assembled from time to time in one place. Rissah is variously interpreted "heap of ruins," or "dew;" Shapher means "fair," or "splendid;" Haradah, or Charadah, is "terror," or "trembling" (cf. 1 Samuel 14:15); ,Tahath is a "going down," or "depression;" Tarah is "turning," or "delay;" Mithcah signifies "sweetness," and may be compared (in an opposite sense) to Marah.

Numbers 33:30

Hashmonah. This is possibly the Heshmon of Joshua 15:27, since this was one of the "uttermost cities … toward the coast of Edom, southward." The name, however ("fruitfulness"), was probably common on the edge of the desert. Moseroth. This is simply the plural form of Moserah ("chastisement"), and is no doubt the place so called in Deuteronomy 10:6 (see note at end of chapter).

Numbers 33:31

Bene-Jaakan. The full name is given in Deuteronomy 10:6 as Beeroth-beni-Jaakan, "the wells of the children of Jaakan." Jaakan, or Akan, was a grandson of Seir, the legendary tribe father of the Horites of Mount Seir (Genesis 36:20, Genesis 36:27; 1 Chronicles 1:42). The wells of the Beni-Jaakan may well have retained their name long after their original owners had been dispossessed; or a remnant of the tribe may have held together until this time.

Numbers 33:32

Hor-ha-gidgad. The MSS. and Versions are divided between Chor. (:cave.") and Her ("summit," or "mountain"). Gid-gad is no doubt the Gudgodah of Deuteronomy 10:7.

Numbers 33:33

Jotbathah. The meaning of this name, which is apparently "excellent," is explained by the note in Deuteronomy 10:7 "Jotbath, a land of rivers of waters." It would be difficult to find such a land now in the neighbourhood of the Arabah, but there are still running streams in some of the wadys which open into the Arabah towards its southern end.

Numbers 33:34

Ebronah, or "Abronah," a "beach," or "passage," called "the Fords" by the Targum of Palestine. It is conjectured that it lay below Ezion-geber, just opposite to Elath, with which place it may have been connected by a ford at low tide, but this is quite uncertain.

Numbers 33:35

Ezion-gaber, or rather "Etsion-geber," the "giant's backbone." This can hardly be other than the place mentioned in 1 Kings 9:26; 2 Chronicles 8:17 as the harbour of King Solomon's merchant navy. At this later date it was at the head of the navigable waters of the Elanitic Gulf, but considerable changes have taken place in the shore line since the age of Solomon, and no doubt similar changes took place before. It was known to, and at times occupied by, the Egyptians, and the wretched village which occupies the site is still called Aszium by the Arabs. The name itself would seem to be due to some peculiar rock formation—probably the serrated crest either of a neighbouring mountain or of a half-submerged reef.

Numbers 33:36

The wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. See on Numbers 20:1.

Numbers 33:37

Mount Hor. See on Numbers 20:22.

Numbers 33:38

In the fortieth year … in the first day of the fifth month. This is the only place where the date of Aaron's death is given. It is in strict accordance with the Divine intimation that Israel was to wander forty years in the wilderness (Numbers 14:33, Numbers 14:34), that period being understood, according to the usual mercy of God, which shortens the days of evil, to include the time already spent in the wilderness.

Numbers 33:39

An hundred and twenty and three years old. He had been eighty-three years old when he first stood before Pharaoh, forty years before (Exodus 7:7).

Numbers 33:40

And king Arad … heard of the coming. See on Numbers 21:1. The introduction of this notice, for which there seems no motive, and which has no assignable connection with the context, is extremely perplexing. It is not simply a fragment which has slipped in by what we call accident (like Deuteronomy 10:6, Deuteronomy 10:7), for the longer statement in Numbers 21:1-3 occupies the same position in the historical narrative immediately after the death of Aaron. It is difficult to suppose that Moses wrote this verse and left it as it stands; it would rather seem as if a later hand had begun to copy out a statement from some earlier document—in which it had itself perhaps become misplaced—and had not gone on with it.

Numbers 33:41

Zalmonah. This place is not elsewhere mentioned, and cannot be identified. Either this or Punon may be the encampment where the brazen serpent was set up; according to the Targum of Palestine it was the latter.

Numbers 33:42

Punon. Perhaps connected with the Pinon of Genesis 36:41. The Septuagint has Φινώ, and it is identified by Eusebius and Jerome with Phaeno, a place between Petra and Zoar where convicts were sent to labour in the mines. Probably, however, the march of the Israelites lay further to the east, inasmuch as they scrupulously abstained from trespassing upon Edom.

Numbers 33:44

Oboth … Ije-abarim. See on Numbers 21:11.

Numbers 33:45

Dibon-gad. This encampment may have been the same as that previously called by the name of Nabaliel or Bamoth (Numbers 21:19, and see on Numbers 33:34). Several stages are here passed over in the Itinerary. At a time when the conquest and partial occupation of large districts was going on, it would be hard to say what regular stages were made by the host as such (see note at end of chapter).

Numbers 33:46

Almon-diblathaim. Probably the same as the Beth-diblathaim mentioned in Jeremiah 48:22 as a Moabitish town contignous to Dibon, Nebo, and Kiriathaim. The name, which signifies "hiding-place of the two circles" or "cakes," was doubtless due either to some local legend, or more probably to the fanciful interpretation of some peculiar feature in the landscape.

Numbers 33:47

The mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. The same locality is called "the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward the waste," in Numbers 21:20 (see note there, and at Numbers 27:12). Nebo is the name of a town here, as in Numbers 32:3, Numbers 32:38, and in the later books; in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:49; Deuteronomy 34:1) it is the name of the mountain, here included in the general designation Abarim.

Numbers 33:48

In the plains of Moab. See on Numbers 22:1.

Numbers 33:49

From Beth-jesimoth even unto Abel-shittim. Beth-jesimoth, "house of the wastes," must have been very near the point where Jordan empties itself into the Dead Sea, on the verge of the salt desert which bounds that sea on the east. It formed the boundary of Sihon's kingdom at the south-west corner. Abel-shittim, "meadow of acacias," is better known by the abbreviated name "Shittim" (Numbers 25:1; Micah 6:5). Its exact site cannot be recovered, but the Talmud states that it was twelve miles north of the Jordan mouth. Probably the center of the camp was opposite to the great fords, and the road leading to Jericho.

Note on the Two Lists of Stations Between Egypt and the Jordan

There can be no question that the chief interest of the Itinerary here given is due to its literary character as a document containing elements at least of extreme and unquestioned antiquity. At the same time it is a matter of some importance to compare it with the history as given at large in Exodus and Numbers, and to note carefully the points of contact and divergence. It is evident at first sight that no pains have been taken to make the two lists of stages agree, each list containing several names which the other lacks, and (in some cases) each having a name of its own for what appears to be the same place. With respect to the latter point, the explanation usually given seems quite natural and satisfactory: the names were in many cases given by the Israelites themselves, and in others were derived from some small local peculiarity, or belonged to insignificant hamlets, so that the same encampment may very well have received one name in the official record of the movements of the tabernacle, and retained another in the popular recollection of the march. With respect to the former point, it may fairly be argued that the narrative only records as a rule the names of places where something memorable occurred, and indeed does not always mention the place even then, while the Itinerary is simply concerned with the consecutive encampments as such. It would be more correct to say that the narrative is essentially fragmentary, and does not purport to record more than certain incidents of the wanderings.
We have, therefore, no difficulty in understanding why the Itinerary gives us the names of three stations between Egypt and Mount Sinai not mentioned in Exodus. There is much more difficulty with the ensuing notices, because the name of Kadesh only occurs once in the list, whereas it is absolutely necessary, in order to bring the narrative into any chronological sequence, to assume (what the narrative itself pretty clearly intimates) that there were two encampments at Kadesh, separated by an interval of more than thirty-eight years. It has accordingly been very generally agreed that the Rithmah of the Itinerary is identical with the nameless station "in the wilderness of Paran," afterwards called Kadesh in the narrative. This is of course an assumption which has only probabilities to support it, but it may fairly be said that there is nothing against it. The retem, or broom, is so common that it must have given a name to many different spots—a name too common, and possessing too few associations, to stand its ground in popular remembrance against any rival name (see note on verse 18). It has been argued by some that the whole of the twenty-one stages enumerated in verses 16-35 were made on the one journey from Sinai to Kadesh; and as far as the mere number goes there is nothing improbable in the supposition; the "eleven days" of Deuteronomy 1:2 are no doubt the days of ordinary travelers, not of women and children, flocks and herds. It is true that the supposition is commonly connected with a theory which throws the whole historical narrative into confusion, viz; that Israel spent only two years instead of forty in the wilderness; but that need not cause its rejection, for the whole thirty-eight may be intercalated between Deuteronomy 1:36 and Deuteronomy 1:37 of the Itinerary, and we could explain a total silence concerning the wanderings of those years better than we can the mention of (only) seventeen stations. The only serious difficulty is presented by the name Ezion-geber, which it is very difficult not to identify with the place of that name, so well known afterwards, at the head of the Elanitic Gulf; for it is impossible to find the last stage towards Kadesh at a spot as near to Sinai as to any of the supposed sites of Kadesh.

It is of course possible that more than one place was known as the "giant's backbone;" but, on the other hand, the fact that at Moseroth Israel was near Mount Hor, and that they made five marches thence to Ezion-geber, is quite in accordance with the site usually assigned to it. It must remain, therefore, an unsettled point as to which nothing more can be said than that a balance of probabilities is in favour of the identification of Rithmah with the first encampment at Kadesh. Proceeding on this assumption, we have thereafter eleven names of stations concerning which nothing is known, and nothing can be with any profit conjectured. Then come four others which are evidently the same as those mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:6, Deuteronomy 10:7. That this latter passage is a fragment which has come into its present position (humanly speaking) by some accident of transcription does not admit of serious debate; but it is evidently a fragment of some ancient document, possibly of the very Itinerary of which we have only an abbreviation here. Comparing the two, we are met at once with the difficulty that Aaron is said to have died and been buried at Moserah, whereas, according to the narrative and the Itinerary, he died on Mount Hor during the last journey from Kadesh. This is not unnaturally explained by assuming that the official name of the encampment under, or opposite to, Mount Hor, from which Aaron ascended the mountain to die, was Moserah or Moseroth, and that the Israelites were twice encamped there—once on their way to Ezion-geber and back to Kadesh, and again on the last march round Edom, to which the fragment in Deuteronomy refers. There remain, however, unexplained the singular facts—

1. That the station where Aaron died is called Moserah in Deuteronomy 10:6, whereas it is called Mount Hor not only in the narrative, but in the Itinerary, which nevertheless does give the name Moseroth to this very station when occupied on a previous occasion.

2. That the fragment gives Bene-Jaakan, Moseroth, Gudgod, and Jotbath as stages on the last journey, whereas the Itinerary gives them (the order of the first two being inverted) as stages on a previous journey, and gives other names for the encampments of the last journey. There is no doubt room for all four, and more besides, between Mount Hor and Oboth; but it cannot be denied that there is an appearance of error either in the fragment or in the Itinerary.

A further objection has been made to the statement that Israel marched from Ezion-geber to Kadesh, both on the score of distance and of the apparent absurdity of returning to Kadesh only to retrace their steps once more. It is replied

(1) that the return to Kadesh for the final move may have been hurried, and no regular encampment pitched;

(2) that when Israel returned to Kadesh it was still in expectation of entering Canaan "by the way of the spies," and in ignorance that they would have to treat with Edom for a passage—much more that they would have to come down the Arabah once again.

Lastly, with respect to the names which occur after Ije-abarim, we have again an almost total want of coincidence with this peculiarity, that the narrative gives seven names where the Itinerary only gives three. It must, however, be remembered that the whole distance from the brook of Arnon, where the Israelites crossed it, to the Arboth Moab is only thirty miles in a straight line. Over this short distance it is quite likely that the armies of Israel moved in lines more or less parallel, the tabernacle probably only shifting its place as the general advance made it desirable. That the two accounts are based on different documents, or drawn from different sources, is likely enough; but both may nevertheless be equally correct. If one record was kept by Eleazar, and another by Joshua, the apparent disagreement may be readily explained.


Numbers 33:1-49


We have here a brief summary of the stages by which Israel traveled onwards from Egypt to Canaan; spiritually, therefore, we have an epitome of the Church's progress, or of the progress of a soul, through this world to the world to come. Hence it follows that all the lessons, encouragements, and warnings which belong to these forty years weave themselves about this Itinerary, which might to the careless eye seem a bare list of names. "Per has (mansiones) currit verus Hebraeus, qui de terra transire festinat ad coelum," says Jerome. And in this connection it can hardly be an accident that as there are forty-two stations in this list, so there are forty-two generations in the first Gospel from Abraham (the starting-point of the faithful) to Christ (in whom they find rest). And, again, it may be more than a coincidence that the woman in the Apocalypse who represents the Church militant (Revelation 12:1-17) was in the wilderness forty-two months. In all three cases (as certainly in the last) it is likely that the number forty-two was designedly chosen because it Isaiah 12:0 X 3½, and 3½, or the half of 7, is the number which expresses trial, probation, and imperfection. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT THIS ITINERARY WAS WRITTEN "BY THE COMMANDMENT OF THE LORD," NO DOUBT AS A MEMORIAL UNTO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL OF THEIR TRIALS AND OF HIS FAITHFULNESS. Even so it is the will of God that every Church and every soul should keep in memory the stages of its own spiritual progress, for these are full of holy memories and needful lessons, all being eloquent of our own insufficiency and of his goodness. No one, being in plenty and at rest, should ever forget the straitness and the trial through which the good hand of God hath led him.

II. THAT THE TWO ENDS OF THIS ITINERARY ARE PLAINLY FIXED, THE ONE IN THE GLORIOUS DELIVERANCE FROM EGYPT "AFTER THE PASSOVER:" THE OTHER ON THE VERGE OF JORDAN IN FULL VIEW OF CANAAN. Even so all spiritual life histories begin with the redemption from bondage through the blood of the Lamb, and end with the sure hope of immortality on the verge of the river of death.

III. THAT THE INTERMEDIATE STAGES ARE TO A GREAT EXTENT UNCERTAIN, SOME QUITE UNKNOWN, AND OTHERS MATTER OF DISPUTE. Even so, while we know whence all Christian progress leads men at the first, and whither it being, s men at the last, yet the intermediate course (sometimes a very long one) is for the most part strangely indiscernible, its points of contact with the outer world having little meaning or interest save for the travelers themselves. Just as maps help us little to follow the forty-two stages, so do religious theories give us small assistance in tracing the actual course of a soul through the trials and perplexities of real life.


(1) where the obligation to obey the higher law of God's will came upon them;

(2) where after much drawing back and consequent failure a new call to advance was heard;

(3) where the old outward associations, upon which they had all along leaned, failed them, and yet left them none the weaker.

V. THAT THE FEW NOTES OF EVENTS APPENDED TO CERTAIN NAMES OF PLACES (ELIM, REPHIDIM, HOR) SEEM TO BE SELECTED ARBITRARILY. Some other places certainly had, and many others probably had, more interesting associations for the Israelites. Even so it is not only or chiefly those passages which attract attention and secure comment in the history of a Church or of a soul which are of deep interest and profound importance to itself; names and facts which have no associations for others may for it be full of the deepest meaning.

And note that all the stations named in this list have their own signification in the Hebrew, but the spiritual teaching founded on such signification is too arbitrary and fanciful to be seriously dealt with.


Numbers 33:1-49


Reading through this record, which looks, on the first appearance of it, much like a page from a gazetteer, we are made to feel—

I. HOW LITTLE WE SHOULD KNOW OF THE EXPERIENCES OF ISRAEL IN THEIR WANDERINGS IF WE HAD BEEN TOLD NO MORE THAN THIS. A period of forty years has to be covered; and though by one kind of narration it takes four books, full of solemnity and variety, abounding in matters of stirring interest, and often going into the minutest detail, in order to indicate sufficiently the events of the period, yet by another kind of narration the period can be comprised in forty-nine short verses. All the way through these verses it is assumed that a particular aspect of the course of Israel is being presented, and that a full, edifying, and satisfying narrative is to be sought elsewhere. Consider what great omissions there are. We do indeed see something of the manner of starting, but even here there is hardly anything to explain how Israel came to leave Egypt. It is said that they passed through the midst of the sea, but nothing is said of the wonderful and glorious manner in which the passage was effected. There is nothing of all the law-giving at Sinai; nothing of the tabernacle, the ark, the offerings, and the priestly office; nothing of the great manna mercies; nothing even of the cloud and trumpets, though they had so much to do with the journeys; nothing of the rebellion which was the great cause of this long wandering. If it was a mere record of places we could better understand it, but there are just enough of additional matters introduced to perplex us as to why some are inserted and others omitted. How clear it becomes, in the light of an artless record like this, that we shall err if we allow ourselves to look too constantly on the books of the Old Testament as being the literature, the classic literature, of the Hebrews! That they are literature is of course true, but it is so small a part of the truth concerning them, that if we allow it to become too prominent, it will hide much more important truth. Moses was evidently not a man to care about the niceties and elaborations so dear to fastidious writers. His hands were too full of guiding and governing. If what he wrote was written in a way to glorify God, that was sufficient. We find in the Pentateuch not history, but the rough, yet authentic and unspeakably precious, materials of history. A man with the requisite interest and knowledge may analyze, select, and combine these materials into a history from his own point of view, but thanks be to God that he took a meek, humble, and unselfish Moses, who had no views of his own to assert, and who thought of no monumentum aere perennius, and made him his pen to write something a great deal more important than the history of any nation, namely, the dealings of God with his own typical people, and through them with the world at large.

II. Though this is such a brief and apparently artless record, little more than a copy of names from a map, yet HOW MUCH IT WOULD TELL US, EVEN IF WE HAD BEEN TOLD NO MORE. If this were but the sole surviving fragment of the four books, it would nevertheless indicate the presence of God, and that in very remarkable ways. It would indicate the authority of Jehovah over Israel. Moses and Aaron are spoken of as the leaders of Israel (Numbers 33:1), yet only leaders under God; for Moses wrote this very record at the commandment of God (Numbers 33:2), and Aaron went up into Mount Hor to die at the commandment of God (Numbers 33:38). We should also learn something of the punitive power of God. We should feel ourselves in the presence of some terrible sin, some terrible suffering, and some crowning blow which had come upon Egypt. We should learn that God was able to vindicate his majesty and glory against the arrogance of idolatry (Numbers 33:4). We should learn that human life was at the sovereign disposal of God, for he controls the death of the first-born and the death of Aaron. And from what we thus plainly see of God's presence in certain places, we might infer that he was also in the places where we see him not. We might infer that if he was in the midst of the Israelites when they left Egypt, and in their midst forty years after, then he must have been with them all the time between. Thus, though in these forty-nine verses we are told nothing whatever, in a plain, direct way, of human character, we are yet brought face to face with very suggestive intimations concerning the character of God. From the human point of view the record is indeed a very barren one; but this only helps to show how when man becomes scarcely visible, unless as a mere wanderer, the glory of God shines brilliantly as ever.

III. We have thus tried to imagine this passage as being the sole surviving fragment of the four books which deal with the wanderings. But we know in reality that it is only a sort of appendix to the record of notable and solemn proceedings already given. It may even seem as if it would not have been much missed if it had been left out. As we think over it, however, we become conscious that A DISTINCT AND PECULIAR IMPRESSION IS BEING PRODUCED ON OUR MINDS. Reading through the Book of Numbers, we wander with Israel from the day they leave Sinai down to the day they enter the plains of Moab by Jordan; and now in this passage we are all at once lifted as it were into an exceeding high mountain, and get a bird's-eye view of the wandering, shifting life of Israel during these forty years. It is well to be brought face to face with something that will remind us of the shifting character of human life, Even the lives that seem most stationary, as far as local circumstances are concerned, are full of change. It is not because a man is born, lives, and dies in one locality, perhaps even in one house, that his life is to be reckoned a settled one. Wherever we are, however rooted and grounded in appearance, we see one generation going and another coming, ourselves being' a part of what we see. Here, in the record of these journeyings, was something true for all Israel; Moses and Aaron were brought down to the same level with the humblest of their followers. There are certain necessary outlines of change in the course of every human being who lives to the allotted term—birth, unconscious infancy, the common influences of childhood, the time to choose a temporal occupation, the day when father dies and when mother dies, the dropping away of kindred, companions, and friends, and so on till death comes at last. There is so much of life lived and so much of biography written under the fascinating glamour of mere mundane interests, that it is a good thing to go where, along with God himself, we may look down on the changing scenes of earth from the dwarfing and humbling heights of eternity. There is a time to listen to the botanist and the expert in vegetable physiology, while they discourse to us on the wonders of the leaf; there is a time to see what the painter can do with it, and what the poet; but from all these we must turn at last to God's own Isaiah, and hear him drawing out the great final lesson, "We all do fade as a leaf."—Y.

Numbers 33:50-29



Numbers 33:50

And the Lord spake. It is quite obvious that a new section begins here, closely connected, not with the Itinerary which precedes it, but with the delimitation which follows. The formula which introduces the present command is repeated in Numbers 35:1, and again in the last verse of Numbers 36:1-13, thus giving a character of its own to this concluding portion of the Book, and to some extent isolating it from the rest.

Numbers 33:51

When ye are passed over Jordan. Previous legislation had anticipated the time when they should have come into their own land (cf. Numbers 15:2; Le Numbers 23:10), but now the crossing of the river is spoken of as the last step on their journey home.

Numbers 33:52

Ye shall drive out. The Hebrew word (from יָרַשׁ) is the same which is translated "dispossess" in the next verse. The Septuagint has in both eases ἀπολεῖτε, supplying (like the A.V.) the word "inhabitants" in Numbers 33:53. The Hebrew word, however, seems to have much the same sense as the English phrase "clear out," and is, therefore, equally applied to the land and the occupants of it. No doubt it implies extermination as a necessary condition of the clearance. Their pictures. מַשְׂכִּיֹּתָם. Septuagint, τὰς σκοπιὰς αὐτῶν, (their outlooks, or high places). The Targums of Onkelos and Palestine have "the houses of their worship;" the Targum of Jerusalem has "their idols." The same word occurs in Le Numbers 26:1, in the phrase אֵבֶן מַשְׂכִּית, which is usually rendered "a stone image," i.e; a stone shaped into some likeness of man. If so, מַשְׂכִּית by itself has probably the same meaning; at any rate it can hardly be "a picture," nor is there the least evidence that the art of painting was at all practiced among the rude tribes of' Canaan. The same word, maskith, is indeed found in Ezekiel 8:12 in connection with "gravings" (from חָקַק; cf. Isaiah 22:16; Isaiah 49:18 with Ezekiel 4:1; Ezekiel 23:14) on a wall; but even this belonged to a very different age. Their molten images, צַלְמֵי מַסֵּכֹתָם, "images cast of brass." Septuagint, τὰ εἰδωλα τὰ χονευτά. The word tselem is only elsewhere used in the Pentateuch for that "likeness'' which is reproduced in Divine creation (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6) or in human generation (Genesis 5:3); in the later books, however (especially in Daniel), it is freely used for idols. On "massakah," see on Exodus 32:4; Isaiah 30:22. Their high places. בָמוֹתָם. See on Leviticus 26:30. The Septuagint translates Bamoth in both places by στῆλαι, and of course it was not the high places themselves, which were simply certain prominent elevations, but the monuments (of whatever kind) which superstition had erected upon them, which were to be plucked down. As a fact, it would seem that the Jews, instead of obeying this command, appropriated the Bamoth to their own religious uses (cf. 1 Samuel 9:12; 1 Kings 3:2; Psalms 78:58, &c.). The natural result was, as in all similar cases, that not only the Bamoth, but very many of the superstitions and idolatries connected with them, were taken over into the service of the Lord.

Numbers 33:53

I have given you the land. "The earth is the Lord's," and no one, therefore, can dispute his right in the abstract to evict any of his tenants and to put others in possession. But while the whole earth was the Lord's, it is clear that he assumed a special relation towards the land of Canaan, as to which he chose to exercise directly the rights and duties of landlord (see on Deuteronomy 22:8 for a small but striking instance). The first duty of a landlord is to see that the occupancy of his property is not abused for illegal or immoral ends; and this duty excuses, because it necessitates, eviction under certain circumstances. It is not, therefore, necessary to argue that the Canaanites were more infamous than many others; it is enough to remember that God had assumed towards the land which they occupied (apparently by conquest) a relation which did not allow him to overlook their enormities, as he might those of other nations (see on Exodus 23:23-33; Exodus 34:11-17, and cf. Acts 14:16; Acts 17:30). It was (if we like to put it so) the misfortune of the Canaanites that they alone of "all nations" could not be suffered to "walk in their own ways," because they had settled in a land which the Lord had chosen to administer directly as his own earthly kingdom.

Numbers 33:54

Ye shall divide the land by lot. These directions are repeated in substance from Numbers 26:53-56. Every man's inheritance. Not only the tribe, but the family and the household, was to receive its special inheritance by lot; no doubt in such a way that the final settlement of the country would correspond with the blood relationships of the settlers.

Numbers 33:55

If ye will not drive out the inhabitants. As was in fact the case (Judges 1:1-36). The warning is here given for the first time, because the danger was now near at hand, and had indeed already shown itself in the matter of the Midianitish women and children. Pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides. Natural symbols of dangerous annoyances. Possibly the thickets which fringe the Jordan supplied them with present examples. In Joshua 23:13 we have "scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes," which sounds somewhat more artificial. In Judges 2:3, where this warning is quoted, the figure is not expressed at all: "they shall be in your sides."

Numbers 33:56

I shaft do unto you as I thought to do unto them, i.e; I shall execute by other hands upon you the sentence of dispossession which ye shall have refused to execute upon the Canaanites. The threat (although in fact fulfilled) does not necessarily involve any prophecy, since to settle down among the remnants of the heathen was a course of action which would obviously and for many reasons commend itself to the Israelites. Indolence and cowardice were consulted by such a policy as much as the natural feelings of pity towards vanquished and apparently harmless foes. The command to extirpate was certainly justified in this case (if it could be in any) by the unhappy consequences of its neglect. Israel being what he was, and so little severed in anything but religion from the ancient heathen, his only chance of future happiness lay in keeping himself from any contact with them. On the morality of the command itself, see on the passages referred to, and on the slaughter of the Midianites. As a fact, the extirpation of the conquered did not offend the moral sense of the Jews then any more than it did that of our heathen Saxon ancestors. Where both races could not dwell in security, it was a matter of course that the weaker was destroyed. Such a command was therefore justified at that time by the end to be attained, because it was not contrary to the moral law as then revealed, or to the moral sense as then educated. Being in itself a lawful proceeding, it was made a religious proceeding, and taken out of the category of selfish violence by being made a direct command of God.

Numbers 34:2

Into the land of Canaan. Canaan has here its proper signification as the land (roughly speaking) between Jordan and the sea (so in Numbers 32:32; Joshua 22:11, 82). Nor is there any clear instance of its including the trans-Jordanic territories. In the prophets the word reverts to its proper (etymological) meaning, as the "flat country" along the Mediterranean coast (cf. Isaiah 19:18; Zephaniah 2:5; Matthew 15:22). This is the land that shall fall unto you. These words should not be placed in a parenthesis; it is a simple statement in the tautological style so common in these books. With the coasts thereof, or, "according to its boundaries," i.e; within the limits which nature and the Divine decree had set to the land of Canaan.

Numbers 34:3

Then your south quarter. Rather, "and your south side." From the wilderness of Zin along by the coast of Edom. This general preliminary definition of the southern frontier marks the "wilderness of Zin" as its chief natural feature, and asserts that this wilderness rested "upon the sides" (עַל־יְדֵי) of Edom. The wilderness of gin can scarcely be anything else than the Wady Murreh, with more or less of the barren hills which rise to the south of it, for this wady undoubtedly forms the natural southern boundary of Canaan. All travelers agree both as to the remarkable character of the depression itself and as to the contrast between its northern and southern mountain walls. To the south lies the inhospitable and un-cultivatable desert; to the north the often arid and treeless, but still partially green and habitable, plateau of Southern Palestine. The expression, "on the sides of Edom," can only mean that beyond the Wady Murreh lay territory belonging to Edom, the Mount Seir of Deuteronomy 1:2, the Seir of Deuteronomy 1:44; it does not seem possible that Edom proper, which lay to the east of the Arabah, and which barely marched at all with the land of Canaan, should be intended here (see on Joshua 15:1, and the note on the site of Kadesh). And your south border. This begins a fresh paragraph, in which the southern boundary, already roughly fixed, is described in greater detail. Shall be the utmost coast of the salt sea eastward. Rather, "shall be from the extremity (מִקְצֵה) of the salt sea eastward" (cf. Joshua 15:2). The easternmost point in this boundary was to be fixed at the southernmost extremity of the Salt Sea.

Numbers 34:4

Shall turn from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim. It is not at all clear what מִנֶּגֶב לִמַעַלֵה can mean in this sentence. The A.V; which follows the Septuagint and the Targums, does not seem to give any sense, while the rendering, "to the south side of the ascent," does not seem grammatically defensible. Moreover, it is quite uncertain where the "ascent of Akrabbim," i.e; the "Scorpion-pass," or "Scorpion-stairs," is to be placed. Some travelers have recognized both place and name in a precipitous road which ascends the northern cliffs towards the western end of the Wady Murreh, and which the Arabs call Nakb Kareb; others would make the ascent to be the steep pass of es Sufah, over which runs the road from Petra to Hebron; others, again, identify the Scorpion-stairs with the row of white cliffs which obliquely cross and close in the Ghor, some miles south of the Salt Sea, and separate it from the higher level of the Arabah. None of these identifications are satisfactory, although the first and last have more to be said in their favour than the second. Possibly the ascent of Akrabbim may have been only the Wady Fikreh, along which the natural frontier would run from the point of the Salt Sea into the Wady Murreh. Pass on to Zin. It is only here and in Joshua 15:3 that the name Zin stands by itself; it may have been some place in the broadest part of the Wady Murreh which gave its name to the neighbouring wilderness. From the south to Kadesh-barnea. Here again we have the expression מִנֶּגֶב לְ־, of which we do not know the exact force. But if Kadesh was in the neighbourhood of the present Ain Kudes, then it may be understood that the frontier, after reaching the western end of the Wady Murreh, made a detour to the south so as to include Kadesh, as a place of peculiarly sacred memory in the annals of Israel. It is indeed very difficult, with this description of the southern frontier of Canaan before us, to believe that Kadesh was in the immediate neighbourhood of the Arabah, where many commentators place it; for if that were the case, then the boundary line has not yet made any progress at all towards the west, and the only points given on the actual southern boundary are the two unknown places which follow. Hazar-addar. In Joshua 15:3 this double name is apparently divided into the two names of Hezron and Addar, but possibly the latter only is the place intended here. A Karkaa is also mentioned there, which is equally unknown with the rest.

Numbers 34:5

The river of Egypt, or "brook (נַחַל) of Egypt." Septuagint, χειμά ῥουν Αἰγύπτου. It was a winter torrent which drained the greater part of the western half of the northern desert of the Sinaitic peninsula. It was, however, only in its lower course, where a single channel receives the intermittent outflow of many wadys, that it was known as the "brook of Egypt," because it formed the well-marked boundary between Egypt and Canaan. So far as we are able to follow the line drawn in these verses, it would appear to have held a course somewhat to the south of west for about half its length, then to have made a southerly deflection to Kadesh, and from thence to have struck north-west until it reached the sea, almost in the same latitude as the point from which it started.

Numbers 34:6

And as for the western border. The Hebrew word for "west" (יָם) is simply that for "sea," because the Jews in their own land always had the sea on their west. Thus the verse reads literally, "And the sea boundary shall be to you the great sea and boundary; this shall be to you the sea boundary." It would seem very unlikely that the Jews familiarly used the word "yam" for "west" after a residence of several centuries in a country where the sun set not over the sea, but over the desert. Nothing can of course be proved kern the use of the word here, but it cannot be overlooked as one small indication that the language of this passage at any rate is the language of an age subsequent to the conquest of Canaan (see on Exodus 10:19; Exodus 26:22, and Numbers 2:18) The line of coast from the brook of Egypt to the Leontes was upwards of 160 miles in length.

Numbers 34:7

Ye shall point out for you, i.e; ye shall observe and make for, in tracing the boundary. Septuagint, καταμετρήσετε … παρά. Mount Hor. Not of course the Mount Hor on which Aaron died, but another far to the north, probably in Lebanon. The Hebrew הֹר הָהָר, which the Septuagint had rendered Ὤς τὸ ὄρος in Numbers 20:1-29, it renders here τὸ ὄρος τὸ ὄρος, taking הֹר as simply another form הָר, as it probably is. Her Ha-har is therefore equivalent to the English "Mount Mountain ;" and just as there are many "Avon rivers" on the English maps, so there were probably many mountains locally known among the Jews as Hor Ha-hat. We do not know what peak this was, although it must have been one clearly distinguishable from the sea. There is, however, no reason whatever for supposing (contrary to the analogy of all such names, and of the other Mount Hor) that it included the whole range of Lebanon proper.

Numbers 34:8

From Mount Hor ye shall point out your border unto the entrance of Hamath. Literally, "from Mount Hor point out (תְּתָאוּ, as in the previous verse) to come to Hamath," which seems to mean, "from Mount Hor strike a line for the entrance to Hamath." The real difficulty lies in the expression לְבאֹ חַמָת, which the Septuagint renders εἰσπορευομέν ον εἰς Ἐμάθ, "as men enter into Hamath." The same expression occurs in Numbers 13:21, and is similarly rendered by the Septuagint. A comparison with Judges 3:3 and other passages will show that "Ibo Chamath" had a definite geographical meaning as the accepted name of a locality in the extreme north of Canaan. When we come to inquire where "the entrance to Hamath" was, we have nothing to guide us except the natural features of the country. Hamath itself, afterwards Epiphancia on the Orontes, lay far beyond the extremest range of Jewish settlement; nor does it appear that it was ever conquered by the greatest of the Jewish kings. The Hamath in which Solomon built store cities (2 Chronicles 8:4), and the Hamath which Jeroboam II. "recovered" for Israel (2 Kings 14:28), was not the city, but the kingdom (or part of the kingdom), of that name. We do not know how far south the territory of Hamath may have extended, but it is quite likely that it included at times the whole upper valley of the Leontes (now the Litany). The "entrance to Hamath" then must be looked for at some point, distinctly marked by the natural features of the country, where the traveler from Palestine would enter the territory of Hamath. This point has been usually fixed at the pass through which the Orontes breaks out of its upper valley between Lebanon and anti-Lebanon into the open plain of Hamath. This point, however, is more than sixty miles north of Damascus (which confessedly never belonged to Israel), and nearly a hundred miles north-north-west from Dan. It would require some amount of positive evidence to make it even probable that the whole of the long and narrow valley between Lebanon and anti-Lebanon, widening towards the north, and separated by mountainous and difficult country from the actual settlements of the Jews, was yet Divinely designated as part of their inheritance. No such positive evidence exists, and therefore we are perfectly free to look for "the entrance to Hamath" much further to the south. It is evident that the ordinary road from the land of Canaan or from the cities of Phoenicia to Hamath must have struck the valley of the Leontes, have ascended that river to its sources, and crossed the watershed to the upper stream of Orontes. The whole of this road, until it reached the pass already spoken of leading down to the Emesa of after days, and so to Hamath, lay through a narrow valley of which the narrowest part is at the southern end of the modern district of el Bekaa, almost in a straight line between Sidon and Mount Hermon. Here the two ranges approach most nearly to the bed of the Litany (Leontes), forming a natural gate by which the traveler to Hamath must needs have entered from the south. Here then, very nearly in lat. 88° 80', we may reasonably place the "entrance to Hamath" so often spoken of, and so escape the necessity of imagining an artificial and impracticable frontier for the northern boundary of the promised land. Zedad. Identified by some with the present village of Sadad or Sudad, to the south-east of Emesa (Hums); but this identification, which is at best very problematic, is wholly out of the question if the argument of the preceding note be accepted.

Numbers 34:9

Ziphron. A town called Sibraim is mentioned by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:16) as lying on the boundary between Damascus and Hamath, and there is a modern village of Zifran about forty miles north-east of Damascus, but there is no probable ground for supposing that either of these are the Ziphron of this verse. Hazar-enan, i.e; "fountain court." There are of course many places in and about the Lebanon and anti-Lebanon ranges to which such a name would be suitable, but we have no means of identifying it with any one of them. It must be confessed that this "north border" of Israel is extremely obscure, because we are not told whence it started, nor can we fix, except by conjecture, one single point upon it. A certain amount of light is thrown upon the subject by the description of the tribal boundaries and possessions as given in Joshua 19:1-51, and by the enumeration of places left unconquered in Joshua 13:1-33 and Judges 3:1-31. The most northerly of the tribes were Asher and Naphtali, and it does not appear that their allotted territory extended beyond the lower valley of the Leontes where it makes its sharp turn towards the west. It is true that a portion of the tribe of Dan afterwards occupied a district further north, but Dan-Laish itself, which was the extreme of Jewish settlement in this direction, as Beersheba in the other, was southward of Mount Hermon. The passage in Joshua 13:4-6 does indeed go to prove that the Israelites never occupied all their intended territory in this direction, but as far as we can tell the line of promised conquest did not extend further north than alden and Mount Hermon. "All Lebanon toward the sunrising" cannot well mean the whole range from south to north, but all the mountain country lying to the east of Zidon. One other passage promises to throw additional light upon the question, viz; the ideal delimitation of the Holy Land in Ezekiel 47:1-23; and here it is true that we find a northern frontier (Ezekiel 47:15-17) apparently far beyond the line of actual settlement, and yet containing two names at least (Zedad and Hazar-enan) which appear in the present list. It is, however, quite uncertain whether the prophet is describing any possible boundary line at all, or whether he is only mentioning(humanly speaking at random)certain points in the far north; his very object would seem to be to picture an enlarged Canaan extending beyond its utmost historical limits. Even if it should be thought that these passages require a frontier further to the north than the one advocated above, it will yet be impossible to carry it to the northern end of the valley between Lebanon and anti-Lebanon. For in that case the northern frontier will not be a northern frontier at all, but will actually descend from the "entrance of Hamath" in a southerly or south-westerly direction, and distinctly form part of the eastern boundary.

Numbers 34:11

Shepham is unknown. Riblah cannot possibly be the Riblah in the land of Hamath (Jeremiah 39:5), now apparently Ribleh on the Orontes. This one example will serve to show how delusive are these identifications with modern places. Even if Ribleh represents an ancient Riblah, it is not the Riblah which is mentioned here. On the east side of Ain, i.e; of the fountain. The Targums here imply that this Ain was the source of Jordan below Mount Hermon, and that would agree extremely well with what follows. The Septuagint has ἐπὶ πηγάς, and there is in fact more than one fountain from which this head-water of Jordan takes its rise. Immediately before the Septuagint has Βηλά where we read Riblah. It has been supposed that the word was originally Ἀρβηλά, a transliteration of "Har-bel," the mountain of Bel or Baal, identical with the Harbaal-Hermon (our Mount Hermon) of Judges 3:3. The Hebrew הָרִבְלָה being differently pointed, and the final הtaken as the suffix of direction, we get הָר־בֵל; but this is extremely precarious. Shall reach unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward. Literally, "shall strike (מָחָה) the shoulder of the sea," &c. The line does not seem to have descended the stream from its source, but to have kept to the east, and so to have struck the lake of Galilee at its north-eastern corner. From this point it simply followed the water-way down to the Salt Sea. The lands beyond Jordan were not reckoned as within the sacred limits.

Numbers 34:15

On this side Jordan near Jericho. Literally, "on the side (מֵעֵבֶר) of the Jordan of Jericho." It was not of course true that the territory which they had received lay eastward of Jericho, but it was the case that the tribe leaders had there asked and received permission to occupy that territory, and it was in this direction that the temporary settlements of Reuben anti Gad lay, perhaps also those of half Manasseh.

Numbers 34:17

Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun. As the ecclesiastical anti military heads respectively of the theocracy (see on Numbers 32:28).

Numbers 34:18

One prince of every tribe. This was arranged no doubt in order to insure fairness in fixing the boundaries between the tribes, which had to be done after the situation of the tribe was determined by lot; the further subdivision of the tribal territory was probably left to be managed by the chiefs of the tribe itself. Of these tribe princes (see on Numbers 13:1; Joshua 14:1), Caleb is the only one whose name is known to us, and he had acted in a somewhat similar capacity forty years before. This may of itself account for the tribe of Judah being named first in the list, especially as Reuben was not represented; but the order in which the other names follow is certainly remarkable. Taken in pairs (Judah and Simeon, Manasseh and Ephraim, &c.), they advance regularly from south to north, according to their subsequent position on the map. Differing as this arrangement does so markedly from any previously adopted, it is impossible to suppose that it is accidental. We must conclude either that a coincidence so apparently trivial was Divinely prearranged, or that the arrangement of the names is due to a later hand than that of Moses.

Numbers 34:20

Shemuel. This is the same name as Samuel. Of the rest, every, one except the last occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament as the name of some other Israelite.


Chapter 33:50-34:29


In this section we have, spiritually, the promised inheritance of the saints, the kingdom of heaven, with the conditions under which it is to be received and enjoyed. No one can overlook the correspondence (which is fundamental and far-reaching) between their "holy land" and ours; between that "rest" which awaited them in Canaan, and that "rest" into which we do now enter. The kingdom of heaven is the spiritual antitype of Canaan. But that kingdom is (practically considered) twofold: it is heaven, or rather rest in heaven, only reached by crossing the stream of death; it is also (and in the Scripture much more often) the rest of the new life in Christ, which yet is neither absolute nor independent of our continued striving' against sin (cf. Matthew 5:3, "theirs is the kingdom;" Luke 17:21 b; Romans 14:17; Colossians 3:3; Hebrews 4:3 a). To this latter aspect (the kingdom as a spiritual and moral state) belong the lessons of this section, for the most part. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT THE ONE GREAT DUTY OF ISRAEL IN TAKING POSSESSION OF HIS OWN LAND WAS WHOLLY TO DISPOSSESS THE NATIVES, AS BEING ENEMIES OF GOD AND OF HIS WORSHIP. Even so the one condition on which we inherit that kingdom which (in its present aspect) is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, is that we put to death the deeds of the flesh, and crucify the old man, and wage a war of extermination against all the sinful affections which have made their home in our human life.

II. THAT ISRAEL WAS FURTHER REQUIRED TO ABOLISH ALL THEIR MONUMENTS OF IDOLATRY, HOWEVER PLEASING AND INTERESTING. Even so all the devices and imaginations of the natural man, however attractive, which are contrary to the sole worship and service of the living God must be wholly, and without exception, destroyed.

III. THAT THE COMMAND TO EXTERMINATE SEEMED HARD, AND WAS UNGRATEFUL (NO DOUBT) TO MOST IN ISRAEL. Why be so extreme? Why not enough to conquer, without extirpating? Why not enough to possess the best of the land, without labouring to clear all the corners? What harm could feeble remnants of heathen do? could they not even make them useful? Even so it seems hard that Christian people may make no compromise with, and show no toleration for, what is sinful and selfish in human life. Why need we be perfect? Shall nothing be allowed to the old Adam? May we never be content? If leading on the whole a Christian life, why weary ourselves about small points of moral excellence? Many things not exactly right may be very useful; may they not be turned to account?

IV. THAT AS A FACT THE COMMAND TO EXTIRPATE WAS NOT OBEYED. Many were left unmolested out of indolence and cowardice when the first rush of conquest was passed; many were spared out of unwillingness to go to extremes with them. Even so most Christian people leave considerable portions of their own lives (which God hath given them for a prey, Jeremiah 45:5) under the dominion of passions, emotions, motives which are not Christian. They overcome the tyrannies of sin, but leave the remnants of sin unsubdued; in other words, they subdue their evil passions and desires, but shrink from destroying them. E.g; how few have their temper entirely under control! Thus the kingdom of heaven is never truly theirs, because of the sins which they have been too indolent or too self-confident to dislodge.

V. THAT AS A FACT THE OTHER COMMAND WAS NOT OBEYED WHOLLY; SOMETIMES GRAVEN IMAGES WERE SERVED, SOMETIMES HIGH PLACES TURNED TO THE WORSHIP OF THE LORD, TO THE GREAT DETRIMENT AND DANGER OF THE TRUE FAITH. Even so the vain devices and perverted imaginations of the natural man have not been discarded by the servants of Christ in many cases; too often they have been either adopted in their blank disloyalty to Christ (as, e.g; that "covetousness which is idolatry"), or else adapted to religious ends (as many forms of will-worship, material and mental) to the detriment of that singleness of eye and heart which God requires.

VI. THAT THE REMNANTS OF THE HEATHEN, IF SPARED, WERE TO BECOME PRICKS AND THORNS (i.e; CONSTANT AND DANGEROUS ANNOYANCES) TO THEM, AND WOULD VEX THEM. Even so if we leave the remnants of sin in the new life which God has given us to lead, these will surely become a continual source of unhappiness and danger. This is why most Christians are more or less restless, dissatisfied, uneven in temper, uncertain in behaviour, having little "peace" and less "joy in the Holy Ghost." It is simply that they have not obeyed the call to make a clearance of old bad habits and evil tempers; do not recognize the sinfulness of little sins; think it does not matter; will not take the trouble necessary to hunt them down; have learnt by experience to tolerate them. No more than this, but no less. They can never be made happy save through patient, prayerful toil to root the remnants of sin out of their hearts and lives.

VII. THAT THE END OF SUCH UNFAITHFULNESS, IF NOT AMENDED, WAS TO BE EXPATRIATION. Both races could not dwell in the land; if Israel would not drive out the heathen, he must be driven out himself. Even so if Christian people will not labour by grace to take complete possession in God's name of their own lives, the end will be that they will lose them altogether. Either grace must make a full end of our sins, or our sins will make an end of grace, because God will withdraw it. There may not be any willful toleration of moral evil in ourselves, nor urging of excuses for its continuance.

Consider again, with respect to Canaan—

I. THAT ISRAEL WAS TO POSSESS IT, BECAUSE GOD HAD GIVEN IT TO THEM; IT WAS HIS, AND HE CHOSE TO DO SO; NO SUCH TITLE WAS EVER GRANTED TO ANY PEOPLE. Even so we are to take possession (by patient well-doing) of the kingdom of heaven, not because it can be earned, but because God hath freely given it to us, whom he hath chosen. This kingdom, therefore, whether as within us or as above us, is ours by a most absolute and indefeasible title.

II. THAT THE GRANT OF CANAAN TO ISRAEL IMPLIED ALL NECESSARY SUCCOUR IN CONQUERING AND OCCUPYING IT, else had the name of God been disgraced. Even so the fact that God hath given to us the kingdom of heaven is pledge positive that we shall receive strength to overcome every hindrance and obstacle, if we be faithful.

III. THAT THE DIVISION OF THE LAND WAS SO ORDERED THAT EQUALITY SHOULD AS FAR AS POSSIBLE BE PRESERVED, AND FAVOURITISM MADE IMPOSSIBLE. Even so God hath so ordered his kingdom that none has cause to envy other, and none can complain of partiality; since all shall inherit heaven alike, and yet heaven itself shall be diverse according to the growth of each in grace (cf. Matthew 20:13-15 and Matthew 20:23 with Luke 19:15-19 and Matthew 25:21-23).

IV. THAT THE HOLY LAND WAS DELIMITED BEFORE THEY ENTERED, BUT THE BOUNDARIES ARE TO A CONSIDERABLE EXTENT UNKNOWN. Even so the kingdom of heaven is defined and described in manifold ways in the word of God, and yet it is hard to know how far it extends, and where the boundary runs between that which is of nature and that which is of grace. And as those frontiers could only be traced by such as were locally familiar with the places named, so the extent of the kingdom can only be known by such as are familiar by experience with every part of it.

V. THAT THE LIMITS MARKED DOWN WERE APPARENTLY THE NATURAL LIMITS OF CANAAN, WITHOUT ANY RESERVATIONS (such as Philistia, Phoenicia, &c.). Even so God hath given to us to possess the whole life of man which may be lived in holiness, according to the utmost possible expansion of our human nature in all its fullness.

VI. THAT THE LAND ACTUALLY OCCUPIED BY ISRAEL WAS BOTH LARGER AND SMALLER THAN THAT DELIMITED; not reaching so far from south to north, yet not so strait from west to east. Even so it is certain that Christian life, as lived, does not agree with the ideal in the New Testament. It does not reach so far, not attain its full measure, in one way, while it occupies additional space in another way. And as the additional breadth gained by the trans-Jordanic settlement, while not commanded, was yet (it seems) allowed of God, so the unexpected developments of Christianity (as in the way of civilization, with its varied gifts), although quite outside anything to be gathered from the New Testament, must yet be held allowed of God.

VII. THAT KADESH, OF FAMOUS MEMORY, WAS SPECIALLY INCLUDED IN THE SOUTHERN FRONTIER. Even so the experiences of our pilgrimage—the "sanctuaries' of our trial time—will be part of our eternal inheritance; nothing "holy" will be lost to us.

VIII. THAT THE LAND WAS ALLOTTED TO THE PEOPLE BY ELEAZAR THEIR PRIEST AND JOSHUA THEIR CAPTAIN. Even so our inheritance is in all particulars assigned to us by him who is at once the High Priest of our profession and the Captain of our salvation.

IX. THAT TOGETHER WITH THEM THERE ACTED PRINCES FROM EACH TRIBE, THAT JUSTICE MIGHT BE MANIFESTLY DONE TO ALL. Even so it would appear that in the judgment of the last day respect will be had even to human ideas of justice; and, moreover, that in some way not yet explained men will themselves act as assessors in that judgment (see 1 Peter 4:6, where κατὰ ἄνθρωπον seems to mean "in accordance with human ideas [of justice];" and 1 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 6:3, which seems clearly to refer to the final judgment).

And note that the order of the tribes as here given is very different from any previous list; for two are absent, and the precedence of the rest is determined after a peculiar law by their subsequent position in the Holy Land. So the Divine order in which Churches or individuals stand is different front any founded on earthly or visible considerations, being in accordance with God's foreknowledge of their heavenly place.


Verse 50-56


I. THE COMMAND GIVEN. The Israelites were to he delivered from complicity with the immoral idolatry of Canaan by such extreme measures as these.

1. The idolaters were to be utterly driven out, and in some cases exterminated. On no account were covenants to be made with them (Exodus 34:12-17).

2. The idols were to be broken to pieces; even the precious metals on them were not to be spared (Exodus 23:24, Exodus 23:30-33; Deuteronomy 7:25, Deuteronomy 7:26).

3. The high places, groves, altars, pillars, &c. were to be destroyed (Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 12:2, Deuteronomy 12:3).

4. Works of art, "pictures," &c; were doomed if tainted by idolatry.

5. The very names of the idols were to he consigned to oblivion, and all curious antiquarian inquiries as to the idolatries of the land were discouraged (Deuteronomy 12:3, Deuteronomy 12:30, Deuteronomy 12:31). Our missionaries have had to urge similar precepts on converts from heathenism; e.g; in Polynesia. And these precepts suggest applications to all Christians who have "escaped the pollutions of the world" and its spiritual idolatries, but who are still surrounded by them. No "covenants" are to be made with men of the world which would compromise the servants of Christ, or mar their testimony against the evil deeds of the would (2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:11). Apply to marriages with the ungodly, and to other close alliances of interest. Illustrate from Jehoshaphat's history (2Ki 8:18 : 2 Chronicles 18:1; 2 Chronicles 19:2). Even things lawful in themselves may have to be abandoned; whether money, in order to conquer "covetousness, which is idolatry", or pleasures which may have associations of evil clinging to them (1 Corinthians 6:12), or even past helps to devotion—e.g; 2 Kings 18:4, Popish images, &c. To look back with strong desire even towards things elegant and attractive in themselves, but infected to us by the spirit of worldliness, may be fatal (Luke 17:32; 2 Corinthians 6:17). The Church of God has the duty of possessing the whole land, "the world" (1 Corinthians 3:22); but to do this they must "dispossess the inhabitants," i.e; they must make no compromise with the spirit of the men of the world. Worldliness is a spirit rather than a course of outward conduct. We must "use the world as not abusing it."


1. The peril of perpetual unrest (verse 55). Just so if Christians seek to make compromises with the sins and idolatries of the world they are called to overcome (1 John 5:4), and become subject to its maxims and fashions, there can be no true rest. The joy of entire obedience can never be known (Psalms 19:11). Compromise is perpetual conflict, with the conviction of being on the losing side. We are wounded in the tenderest part ("pricks in our eyes") and vexed in the secret chamber of conscience ("thorns in our sides").

2. The peril of being regarded as "conformed to the world," and therefore treated as "enemies of God" (verse 56; Psalms 106:34-42; Romans 12:2, Philippians 3:18, Philippians 3:19; James 4:4; 2 Peter 2:20-22). From such guilty compromises we may be delivered through Christ—through his atonement (Galatians 1:4), intercession (John 17:15), example (John 16:33; John 17:16), and Spirit (Romans 8:2; 1 Corinthians 2:12).—P.


Verse 50-56


It is assumed here that Israel will conquer the Canaanites; probably by this time the people had grown to somewhat of confidence, by reason of their recent successes over Sihon, Og, and Midian. But it was a thing of the first importance, when the victory was gained, to follow it up in the right way. Victories have been gained, and then worse than lost by want of wisdom to use them aright. Here we have a plain, strict, and severe command concerning the very first thing to be done upon the defeat of the Canaanites. They themselves were to be driven from the land, and all the instruments of idolatry utterly destroyed. The need of this command will be clearly seen if we consider—

I. THE GREAT OBJECT WHICH WAS BEFORE THE MIND OF GOD IN GIVING THE COMMAND. This is alluded to in verse 54. Canaan was ever under the eye of God as being the destined inheritance of Israel; it had been counted as such even from the time of Abraham. The sadness of the threat against Israel in the day of its apostasy lay in this, that it was a threat of disinheriting (Numbers 14:12). And that which had been so long preparing for Israel, which even while the Canaanites were dwelling in it had been under the peculiar supervision of God, was become at last an inheritance of great value. It was to be cultivated to the full, and would then richly repay for all the cultivation. Such interest did God show in giving this land to the Israelites in all its fullness, that he was about to portion it by lot. Each tribe in particular was to feel that the place of its habitation had been chosen by God. Hence the need of leaving no precaution unemployed to make this favoured land secure. It must be guarded from every kind of danger, however remote, improbable, and practically innocuous it may seem. If Israel lost this inheritance, there was no other place for it, no other possession on which it could advance with the certainty of conquest and, what was even more important, with the consciousness of being engaged in a righteous cause. In Canaan, as long as it kept its allegiance to God, Israel was the rightful possessor; but everywhere else it was a lawless, unblessed invader. That which is of inestimable value, and which once gone cannot be replaced, must first of all be founded in security and surrounded with the same. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalms 11:3). The security of the people was threatened by all that threatened the honour of God. And it was a distinct dishonour to his name to allow idolaters to remain in the land openly to practice their vicious and degrading rites. Moreover, there was every chance that the people themselves would be subtly and gradually drawn to idolatry. Recollect all these perils, and then you will see good reason why God made a stringent demand for such a sweeping treatment of the Canaanites. The cause of a world's redemption was bound up with the safety of Israel's inheritance. And we also have an inheritance (Matthew 19:29; Matthew 25:34; Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18; Romans 8:17 : Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 1:11, Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 3:6; 1 Peter 1:4) far transcending that Canaan which was so much in the eyes of the Israelites. If it is worth anything at all, it is worth everything; worth all the self-denial, perseverance, complete submission to God, and patient waiting which are necessary for the attaining of it. We must not leave unexpelled from our life or undestroyed from our circumstances anything that may imperil the inheritance. Walk with no companion, engage in no business, cultivate no taste or recreation, if there be in them the slightest chance of peril to the inheritance. It is a glorious thing to conquer temptation in actual conflict, but it is better still so to watch and pray as not to enter into temptation at all.

II. THE GREAT TEMPTATION ON THE PART OF ISRAEL TO REST SATISFIED WITH AN IMPERFECT CONQUEST. Not of course that Israel thought it imperfect. Israel was anxious in its own way to have the conquest and possession complete. But God alone had the requisite wisdom and foresight to direct the people into real security.

There were many temptations to what he knew was a premature cessation of hostilities. The Canaanites would in due time make attempts at compromises and partial surrenders, even as Pharaoh had made like attempts when his people were smitten by the plagues. There was the temptation that came from the weariness of long waiting. A complete expulsion involved much delay. We are tempted even in the affairs of this life to premature conclusions through sheer impatience. We want to pluck the fruit long before it is ripe. Moreover, the Israelites, many of them at least, would wish to make slaves of the Canaanites. They were not entering Canaan with the steward-feeling in their hearts. The promise was sufficiently fulfilled in their estimate when they got the land to do as they liked with it. The tribes crossing Jordan had the same carnal views concerning their possession as Reuben and Gad concerning the land which they had chosen. There was the temptation coming from self-confidence; that of supposing an enemy enfeebled to be practically the same as an enemy destroyed. There might be the temptation also to show a human, ignorant, undiscerning pity, as contrasted with a Divinely wise severity. Such utter expulsion as God demanded could easily be made to look unreasonable, and indeed nothing better than sheer tyranny. It takes much patient inquiry to discover that what may be kind on the surface is cruel underneath; kind at the present, cruel in the future; kind to the few, cruel to the many; kind for time, utterly ruinous for eternity. There was no reasonable pity in leaving those who were utterly corrupt to become the plentiful sources of idolatrous infection to the people of Jehovah. There was also the temptation that came from a very imperfect sympathy with the purposes of God. During their wanderings the Israelites had shown again and again their lack of apprehension and appreciation with respect to Jehovah. What then of hearty aversion from idolatry could be expected when its subtle perils came upon them? Only those who were filled with an abiding sense of the holiness and majesty of God could estimate the dangers of idolatry and take the precautions needful to guard against them.


1. The earlier result (verse 55). These Canaanites, however fairly they speak, and with whatever leniency they be treated, will turn out pricks and thorns in the end. "Those which ye let remain of them." One, even though he be a child, and seem easily moulded to other ends, may be the cause of measureless mischief. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Behold how great a mass of matter a tiny flame will kindle. A Canaanite, a real Canaanite, worshipping his idols, must be a bad man. Just as a true, believing connection with God leads into all purity and virtue, so a groveling before idols makes a man vicious; and not only vicious, but the viciousness is upon a sort of principle and rule. Those who change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things, change at the same time much besides. It is one of the unspeakable miseries of idolatry that it changes vices into virtues, and idolaters do the most wicked things for conscience' sake. Hence the Canaanite could not but hurt the Israelite; it was his very nature so to do. He might undertake allegiance and amity, but by the very necessity of the case he must prove in the end a prick in the eye and a thorn in the side. Therefore let Israel uproot with a timely and unsparing severity all that would end in pricks and thorns. Study the nature of things in their germs. Stop evil if you can at the very beginning. Consider, in connection with this expulsion of the Canaanites and the dangers of idolatry, the whole of the first chapter of Romans.

2. The later result (verse 56). Leave the Canaanites unexpelled, and the end will be the expulsion of Israel. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). In the light of this threatening, how clearly it is seen that what made the Canaanites so offensive in the sight of God was their idolatry! For centuries they had been pursuing their hideous practices in that very land where a holy and righteous God had revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And if the Israelites by a disobedient leniency fell into idolatry, their state would be even sadder and more dishonourable than that of Canaan, because the fall would be from such privileges. Note that God placed this expulsion of the Canaanites as a work of obedience for the people to perform. If they failed in obedience he would not by some miracle expel the Canaanites himself. "As I thought to do unto them." The land in itself was no more than any other land on the face of the earth. It was the people—the holy people of God—who sanctified the land, and not the land the people. And if they disobeyed God in the presence of all these idols, with their associated abominations, then the holy became unholy, and the Canaanites might as well stay there as remove anywhere else (Proverbs 8:20, Proverbs 8:21; Proverbs 20:21; Ecclesiastes 7:11; Revelation 21:7).—Y.

Numbers 34:1-15


I. CONSIDER THESE BOUNDARIES ACCORDING TO THE EXTENT OF WHAT THEY INCLUDED. The territory was a very limited one, geographically speaking. The promised land, intended to typify the large privileges of the believer, and the heavenly and everlasting inheritance, was not a continent, nor even a considerable part of a continent. The Lord would teach Israel, and through them all his people, the difference between bigness and greatness, between quantity and quality, between mere superficial extent and the inexhaustible wealth that comes out of a really good ground. A square mile in the land that the Lord hath blessed is better than all the sands of Sahara. There was no legitimate room in Israel for men of Alexander's spirit, weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer. The scene that God thus mapped out was large enough to give impressive and beautiful illustrations of his ways, and to bring peace, prosperity, and happiness worthy of bearing such names to all who received his will in the fullness of it. Though only a limited territory, it was for that reason all the more compact; and at a very short notice the whole nation could gather to any point for purposes of worship or defense. Outsiders, who did not know how blessed was the nation whose God was the Lord, might count the land only a little one among the thousands of the whole earth. All depends on what we mean when we speak of the lives of certain people as limited, poor, narrow, and unprivileged. Such words may only reveal our ignorance, our erroneous principles of judgment, and not the real state of affairs. It should ever be part of the brightest radiance of God's glory in the eyes of his people that he can welcome the poor and the lowly to his choicest blessings and to the sweetest pleasures he can confer upon the human heart. Their poverty and lowliness do not unfit them for these things. Paul, who had to work with his own hands, and who said that having food and raiment he was therewith content, was also able to say, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33). No lord of broad acres he, no partaker of luxurious repose among intellectual pleasures, but still he knew of the peace that passeth all understanding, the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and something of the breadth, and length, and depth and height of that love of Christ which passeth knowledge. We had need be very sure of our competency before we begin to pronounce judgment on the compass and depth of a true believer's life.

II. CONSIDER THE EXACTNESS OF THESE BOUNDARIES. The country was carefully defined, and could give no occasion for boundary disputes. And all Christians have a carefully-defined life marked out for them. Even external circumstances are more under our control than at first seems to be the case. Many such circumstances indeed we cannot control, but many also depend on the spirit in which we regard the will of God. For instance, it could hardly be said that God marked out their territory for Reuben and Gad. For his own wise purposes he allowed their choice, but it was no true choice of his. If we have only a thoroughly trustful spirit, a spirit of stewardship towards God, we may all have the profit and comfort of feeling that we are working within the channels and limits that he would choose for our life. Social station makes no difference in this respect. The path of a pious king is just as strictly fixed as that of the humblest of his subjects. The farthest planet that circles round the sun has its path just as much marked out as the nearest one, though it travels a far longer distance.

III. CONSIDER THE EFFICACY THESE BOUNDARIES WERE MEANT TO HAVE IN THE WAY OF EXCLUSION. We see God clearly providing one necessary part in the means whereby to drive out and dispossess the Canaanites. He fixed the line beyond which they were to be driven, and within which they were not allowed to return and dwell. The lines between the Church and the world are not to be tampered with by such as value all that is most precious in spiritual possessions. Let the world have its own principles and assert them in its own field of action and in its own way. Let the men of the world act as men of the world, and transmit their much-belauded policy of life from generation to generation of such as believe in their principles. They go by what men are and by what they cynically assume men must be, for they do devoutly believe the fact that what is born of the flesh is flesh, even though they can make nothing of Christ's reference to the fact. But let us ever claim and preserve a place, and earnestly defend it, where the supercilious egotism of worldly wisdom shall find no entrance. Let our territory be fenced round with "Thus saith the Lord," and let us watch with a jealous vigilance the slightest encroachment on it. We also believe that what is born of the flesh is flesh, and that we must go by what men are; but then we regard in addition what men ought to be, and recollect that what is born of the spirit is spirit. Blessed is he who feels marked out in his own heart the boundary which Paul specifies when he says, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17); Canaanite against Israelite, and Israelite against Canaanite. It availed a man nothing to live within Israelite borders if he had a Canaanite heart. Of old idolaters were rigorously excluded from a certain well-marked territory, and the typical significance of this is that idolatries themselves must be driven out of the regenerate heart, and kept out of it by all the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.

IV. CONSIDER THE SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WESTERN BORDER (Numbers 34:6). The great sea was there, the open pathway of nations, the symbol, and to a large extent the avenue, of Israel's connection with the whole world. For though Israel had destroyed Amorite and Midianite, and was laid under command to drive out the Canaanite, yet in the seed of Abraham all families of the earth were to be blessed. From Canaan there was a path of blessing by a landward way to many lands beside, but by sea there was a way to every island also. Consider the place in respect of Christian privileges and influences which the island England occupies among the nations. The seaward aspect of Israel suggests to us the blessings that we, and indeed many peoples beside, have gained from her. Notice also the element of reference to the sea which this seaward boundary of Canaan has brought into the Scriptures. The Scriptures were written by men who felt the power of the ocean. Men within reach of the sea could then hear the whole of nature praise God. They could not only say, "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad," but also, "Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof" (Psalms 96:11). How could David have given Psalms 104:1-35. its completeness without a sight of the sea? And thus we find Haggai contrasting the great elements, first of the heavens and the earth, and then of the sea and the dry land (Haggai 2:6). It helped David to think of the omnipresence of God, as he imagined himself dwelling in the uttermost parts of the sea, and feeling even there that mighty grasp guarding and sustaining him (Psalms 139:9, Psalms 139:10). And it served also to remind men how in after days the Lord would famish all the gods of the earth, and men would worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen (Zephaniah 2:11). Truly it was by no accident, but by a deep and gracious design, that the land of promise had the great sea for one of its borders.—Y.

Numbers 35:1-34



Numbers 35:1

And the Lord spake. Cf. Numbers 33:50; Numbers 36:13.

Numbers 35:2

That they give unto the Levites … cities to dwell in. This legislation forms the natural sequel and complement of the Divine decrees already promulgated concerning the Levites. Separated from the rest of the tribes from the time of the first census (Numbers 1:49), excluded from any tribal inheritance (Numbers 18:20), but endowed with tithes and offerings for their maintenance (Numbers 18:21, &c.), it was also necessary that they should be provided with homes for themselves and their cattle. They might indeed have been left to exist as they could, and where they could, upon the provision made for them in the law. But, on the one hand, that provision was itself precarious, depending as it did upon the piety and good feeling of the people (which must often have been found wanting: cf. Nehemiah 13:10; Malachi 3:8, Malachi 3:9); and, on the other, it is evident that the Levites were intended, as far as their family and social life was concerned, to share the ordinary comforts and enjoyments of Israelites. Nothing could have been more foreign to the Mosaic ideal than a ministry celibate, ascetic, and detached from this world's wealth, such as readily enough sprang up (whether intended or not) under the teaching of the gospel (cf. Luke 10:4; Luke 12:33; Acts 20:34, Acts 20:35; 1Co 7:7, 1 Corinthians 7:25, 1 Corinthians 7:26; 1Co 9:18, 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Timothy 2:4). Suburbs. The Hebrew word מִגְרָשׁ undoubtedly means here a pasture, or a paddock, an enclosed place outside the town into which the cattle were driven by day to feed. It is possible that the A.V. may have used the word "suburbs'' in that sense. To keep cattle to some extent was not only a universal custom, but was well-nigh a necessity of life in that age.

Numbers 35:3

For their cattle. לִבְהֶמְתָּם, "for their great cattle," i.e; oxen, camels, and any other beasts of draught or burden. For their goods. "For their possessions," which in this connection would mean their ordinary "live stock," chiefly sheep and goats; the word itself (לִרְכוּשָׁם) is indeterminate. For all their beasts. לְכֹל־חַיָּתָם an expression which apparently only sums up what has previously been mentioned.

Numbers 35:5

Ye shall measure from without the city (מִחוּץ לָעִיר—ἔξω τῆς πόλεως)… two thousand cubits. These directions are very obscure. Some have held that the country for 1000 cubits beyond the walls was reserved for pasture (according to Numbers 35:4), and for another 1000 cubits for fields and vineyards, so that the Levitical lands extended 2000 cubits in all directions. This is reasonable in itself, since 2000 cubits is only half a mile, and rather more than a square mile of land would not seem too much for pastures, gardens, &c. for a town with at least 1000 inhabitants. The smallest tribe territories seem to have comprised some 300 square miles of country; and if we take the Levitical towns as averaging 1000 cubits square, their forty-eight cities would only give them seventy-three square miles of territory. There is, however, no notice of anything being given to the Levites except their "suburbs," so that this explanation must be at best very doubtful. Others have argued for a plan according to which each outer boundary, drawn at 1000 cubits' distance from the wall, would measure 2000 cubits, plus the length of the town wall; but this is far too artificial, and could only be considered possible as long as it was confined to a paper sketch, for it presupposes that each city lay four-square, and faced the four points of the compass. If the first explanation be untenable, the only alternative sufficiently simple and natural is to suppose that, in order to avoid irregularities of measurement, each outer boundary was to be drawn at an approximate distance of 1000 cubits from the wall, and each of an approximate length of 2000 cubits; at the angles the lines would have to be joined as best they might. In Leviticus 25:32-34 certain regulations are inserted in favour of the Levites. Their houses might be redeemed at any time, and not only within the full year allowed to others; moreover, they returned to them (contrary to the general rule) at the year of Jubilee. Their property in the "suburbs" they could not sell at all, for it was inalienable. It is difficult to believe that these regulations were really made at Mount Sinai, presupposing, as they do, the legislation of this chapter; but if they were actually made at this time, on the eve of the conquest, it is easy to see why they were subsequently inserted in the chapter which deals generally with the powers of sale and redemption.

Numbers 35:6

And among the cities. Rather, "and the cities." וְאֶת הֶעָרים—καὶ τὰς πόλεις. The construction is broken, or rather is continuous throughout Numbers 35:6-8, the accusative being repeated. Six cities for refuge. See below on Numbers 35:11.

Numbers 35:7

Forty and eight cities. The Levites numbered nearly 50,000 souls (see on Numbers 26:62), so that each Levitical city would have an average population of about 1000 to start with. There seems no sufficient reason for supposing that they shared their towns with men of the surrounding tribe. Even if the provision made for their habitation was excessive at first (which does not appear), yet their rate of increase should have been exceptionally high, inasmuch as they were not liable to military service. It is possible that mystical reasons led to the selection of the number forty-eight (12 x 4, both typical of universality), but it is at least equally probable that it was determined by the actual numbers of the tribe.

Numbers 35:8

And the cities which ye shall give shall be, &c. Rather, "And as to the cities which ye shall give from the possession of the children of Israel, from the many ye shall multiply, and from the few ye shall decrease." What seems to be a general rule of proportionate giving is laid down here, but it was not carried out, and it is not easy to see how it could have been. From the large combined territory of Judah and Simeon nine cities were indeed surrendered (Joshua 21:1-45), but all the rest, great and small, gave up four apiece, except Naphtali, which gave up three only. As the territory of Naphtali was apparently large in proportion to its numbers, this was probably for no other reason than that the tribe stood last on the list. Every one. Hebrew, אִישׁ. It was in fact each tribe that surrendered so many cities, but since the tribal inheritance was the joint property of all the tribesmen, every man felt that he was a party to the gift. No doubt it was the Divine intention to foster in the tribes as far as possible this local feeling of interest and property in the Levites who dwelt among them (compare the expression "their scribes and Pharisees" in Luke 5:30). The dispersion of the Levites (however mysteriously connected with the prophecy of Genesis 49:5-7) was obviously designed to form a bond of unity for all Israel by diffusing the knowledge and love of the national religion, and by keeping up a constant communication between the future capital and all the provinces. According to the Divine ideal Israel as a whole was "the election" (ἡ ἐκλογή) from all the earth, the Levites were the ἐκλογή of Israel, and the priests the ἐκλογή of Levi. The priestly family was at present too small to be influential, but the Levites were numerous enough to have leavened the whole nation if they had walked worthy of their calling. They were gathered together in towns of their own, partly no doubt in order to avoid disputes, but partly that they might have a better opportunity of setting forth the true ideal of what Jewish life should be.

Numbers 35:11

Ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you. God had already announced that he would appoint a place whither one guilty of unpremeditated manslaughter might flee for safety (Exodus 21:18). The expression there used does not point to more than one "place," but it is not inconsistent with several. Probably the right of sanctuary has been recognized from the earliest times in which any local appropriation of places to sacred purposes has been made. It is an instinct of religion to look upon one who has escaped into a sacred enclosure as being under the personal protection of the presiding deity. It is certain that the right was largely recognized in Egypt, where the priestly caste was so powerful and ambitious; and this is no doubt the reason (humanly speaking) for the promise in Exodus 21:13, and for the command in the following verse. Inasmuch as the whole of Canaan was the Lord's, any places within it might he endowed with rights of sanctuary, but it was obviously suitable that they should be Levitical cities; the Divine prerogative of mercy could nowhere be better exercised, nor would any citizens be better qualified to pronounce and to uphold the rightful decision in each case.

Numbers 35:12

From the avenger. Hebrew, גֹאֵל. Septuagint, ὁ ἀγχιστεύων τὸ αἷμα. In all other passages (twelve in number) where the word occurs in this sense it is qualified by the addition "of blood." Standing by itself, it is everywhere else translated "kinsman," or (more properly) "redeemer," and is constantly applied in that sense to God our Saviour (Job 19:25; Isaiah 63:16 &c.). The two ideas, however, which seem to us so distinct, and even so opposed, are in their origin one. To the men of the primitive age, when public justice was not, and when might was right, the only protector was one who could and would avenge them of their wrongs, and by avenging prevent their repetition. This champion of the injured individual, or rather family,—for rights and wrongs were thought of as belonging to families rather than to individuals, was their goel, who had their peace, their safety, above all, their honour, in his charge. For no sentiments spring up quicker, and none exercise a more tyrannous sway, than the sentiment of honour, which in its various and often strangely distorted forms has always perhaps outweighed all other considerations in the minds of men. Now the earliest form in which the sentiment of honour asserted itself was in the blood-feud. If one member of a family was slain, an intolerable shame and sense of contumely rested upon the family until blood had been avenged by blood, until "satisfaction" had been done by the death of the manslayer. He who freed the family from this intolerable pain and humiliation—who enabled it to hold up its head, and to breathe freely once more—was the goel; and in the natural order of things he was the nearest "kinsman" of the slain who could and would take the duty upon him. To these natural feelings was added in many cases a religious sentiment which regarded homicide as a sin against the higher Powers for which they too demanded the blood of the guilty. Such was the feeling among the Greeks, and probably among the Egyptians, while among the Hebrews it could plead Divine sanction, given in the most comprehensive terms: "Your blood of your lives will I require, at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man;… whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:6). The moral difficulties of this proclamation need not here be considered; it is enough to take note that the Divine law itself recognized the duty as well as the lawfulness of private blood-revenge when public justice could not be depended on. The goel, therefore, was not merely the natural champion of his family, nor only the deliverer who satisfied the imperious demands of an artificial code of honour; he was a minister of God, in whose patient efforts to hunt down his victim the thirst for vengeance was to some extent at least superseded by, or rather transmuted into, the longing to glorify God (compare the difficult case of Revelation 6:10). It was not merely human feelings of great reach and tenacity which were outraged by the immunity of the manslayer; it was still more the justice of God which received a grievous wound. Just because, however, God had made the cause of the slain man his own, and had sanctioned the avenging mission of the goel, he could therefore regulate the course of vengeance so as to make it run as even as possible with true justice. It was not indeed possible to distinguish ab initio between the homicide which deserved and that which did not deserve capital punishment. Such distinction, difficult under any circumstances, was impossible when vengeance was in private hands. But while the goel could not be restrained from immediate pursuit unhindered by investigation or compunction (lest his whole usefulness be paralyzed), the manslayer might have opportunity to escape, and to be sheltered under the Divine mercy until he could establish (if that were possible) his innocence. No better instance can be found of the way in which the King of Israel adopted the sentiments and institutions of a semi-barbarous age, added to them the sanctions of religion, and so modified them as to secure the maximum of practical good consistent with the social state and moral feelings of the people. No doubt many an individual was overtaken and slain by the goel who did. not deserve to die according to our ideas; but where perfection was unattainable, this error was far less dangerous to that age than the opposite error of diminishing the sanctity of human life and the awfulness of Divine justice. The congregation. Hebrew, עֵדָה. This word is used frequently from Exodus 12:3 to the end of this chapter, and again in Joshua and the last two chapters of Judges. It is not found in Deuteronomy, nor often in the later books. In every case apparently eydah signifies the whole nation as gathered together, e.g; as represented by all who had an acknowledged right to appear, for of course 600,000 men could not gather together in any one place. The force of the word may be understood by reference to its use in Judges 20:1; Judges 21:10, Judges 21:13, Judges 21:16. Another word (קָהָל) is also used, less frequently in Leviticus and Numbers, but more frequently in the later books, for the general assembly of the people of Israel. No distinction of meaning can be drawn between the two words, and it cannot, therefore, be maintained that the "congregation" of this verse means the local elders of Joshua 20:4. The regulations there laid down are not inconsistent with the present law, but are quite independent of it. They refer to a preliminary hearing of the case as stated by the fugitive alone in order to determine his right to shelter in the mean time; which right, if accorded, was without prejudice to the future judgment of the "congregation" on the whole facts of the case (see below on verse 25).

Numbers 35:13

Six cities. See on Deuteronomy 19:8, Deuteronomy 19:9, where three more are apparently ordered to be set aside upon a certain contingency:

Numbers 35:14

Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan. According to Deuteronomy 4:41-43. Moses himself severed these three cities, Bezer of the Reubenites, Ramoth of the Gadites, and Golan of the Manassites. Those verses, however, seem to be an evident interpolation where they stand, and are hardly consistent with previous statements if taken literally. It is tolerably clear that the two tribes had only formed temporally settlements hitherto, and that their boundaries were not defined as yet; also that the Levitical cities (to which the cities of refuge were to belong) were not separated until after the conquest. It is likely that Deuteronomy 4:41-43 is a fragment, the real meaning el which is that Moses ordered the severance of three cities on that side Jordan as cities of refuge, for which purposes the three cities mentioned were afterwards selected.

Numbers 35:16

With an instrument of iron. There is no reasonable doubt that בַּרְיֶל has here (as elsewhere) its proper meaning of iron. The expression must be held to include both weapons and other instruments; the former may have been mostly made of bronze, but where iron is used at all it is sure to be employed in war.

Numbers 35:17

With throwing a stone, wherewith he may die. Literally, "with a stone of the hand, by which one may die," i.e; a stone which is suitable for striking or throwing, and apt to inflict a mortal wound.

Numbers 35:18

A hand weapon of wood. A club, or other such formidable instrument.

Numbers 35:19

When he meeteth him, i.e; outside a city of refuge.

Numbers 35:20

But if. Rather, "and if" (וְאִם). The consideration of willful murder is continued in these two verses, although chiefly with reference to the motive. It is to be understood that the deliberate intent was present in the former cases, and a new case is added, viz; if he smite him with his fist with fatal consequences.

Numbers 35:22

Without enmity … without laying of wait. These expressions seem intended to limit mercy to cases of pure accident, such as that quoted in Deuteronomy 19:5. Neither provocation nor any other "extenuating circumstances" are taken into account, nor what we now speak of as absence of premeditation. The want of these finer distinctions, as well as the short and simple list of farm injuries given, show the rudeness of the age for which these regulations were made.

Numbers 35:25

The congregation (עֵדָה) shall restore him to the city of his refuge. It is perfectly plain from this (and from Joshua 20:6) that the general assembly of all Israel was to summon both homicide and avenger before them with their witnesses, and, if they found the accused innocent, were to send him back under safe escort to the city in which he had taken refuge. He shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest. No doubt his family might join him in his exile, and his life might be fairly happy as well as safe within certain narrow limits; but under ordinary circumstances he must forfeit much and risk more by his enforced absence from home and land. It is not easy to see why the death of the high priest should have set the fugitive free from the law of vengeance, except as foreshadowing the death of Christ. No similar significance is anywhere else attributed to the death of the high priest; and it was rather in its unbroken continuance than in its recurring interruption that the priesthood of Aaron typified that of the Redeemer. To see anything of a vicarious or satisfactory character in the death of the high priest seems to be introducing an element quite foreign to the symbolism of the Old Testament. The stress, however, which is laid upon the fact of his decease (cf. Numbers 35:28), and the solemn notice of his having been anointed with the holy oil, seem to point unmistakably to something in his official and consecrated character which made it right that the rigour of the law should die with him. What the Jubilee was to the debtor who had lost his property, that the death of the high priest was to tile homicide who had lost his liberty. If it was the case, as commonly believed, that all blood feuds were absolutely terminated by the death of the high priest, might this not be because the high priest, as chief minister of the law of God, was himself the goel of the whole nation? When he died all processes of' vengeance lapsed, because they had really been commenced in his name.

Numbers 35:26

Without the border of the city, i.e; no doubt beyond its "suburbs."

Numbers 35:30

By the mouth of witnesses, i.e; of two at least (cf. Deuteronomy 17:6).

Numbers 35:31

Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer. The passion for vengeance is both bad and good, and is therefore to be carefully purified and restrained; but when the desire for vengeance can be appeased by a money payment, it has become wholly bad, and is only a despicable form of covetousness which insults the justice it pretends to invoke. Such payments or "ransoms" are permitted by the Koran, and have been common among most semi-civilized peoples, notably amongst our old English ancestors.

Numbers 35:32

That he should come again to dwell in the land. No one might buy off the enmity of the avenger before the appointed time, for that would give an unjust advantage to wealth, and would make the whole matter mercenary and vulgar.

Numbers 35:33

The land cannot be cleansed. Literally, "there is no expiation (יְכֻפַר) for the land." Septuagint, οὐχ ἐξιλασθήσεται ἡ γῆ. By these expressions the Lord places the sin of murder in its true light, as a sin against himself. The land, his land, is defiled with the blood of the slain, and nothing can do away with the guilt which cleaves to it but the strict execution of Divine justice upon the murderer. Money might satisfy the relatives of the slain, but cannot satisfy his Maker.

Numbers 35:34

For I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel. Therefore the murderer's hand is raised against me; the blood of the slain is ever before my eyes, its cry for vengeance ever in my ears (of. Genesis 4:10; Matthew 23:35; Revelation 6:10).


Numbers 35:1-34


There are in this chapter three things closely connected historically, and therefore closely consecutive in the narrative, but distinct in their spiritual application. We have, therefore, separately to consider—




I. In the regulations made for the habitation of the Levites and their cattle we have some sort of precedent for religious endowments; but this precedent loses all value in argument when we consider that the old dispensation was essentially temporal, which ours is not; moreover, the Levites do not correspond to the clergy, but rather to the inner circle of the faithful, who are more emphatically the "salt of the earth." Consider, therefore, as to the habitation of the Levites—

1. That it was the will of God to disperse them as widely as possible throughout Israel—a thing which might have been looked upon as a punishment to them (Genesis 49:7), but was really for the common good. Even so it is his will that his own, who are more especially his own, should be scattered far and wide among the mass of imperfect or nominal Christians; not gathered together in one corner of Christendom, but everywhere found as the few among the many. And note that this is the very law of "salt," which must be scattered and diffused to exercise its antiseptic functions.

2. That the Levites, although dispersed, yet lived in communities, and this no doubt that they might set forth the life of holiness according to the law. Even so there is, beside the law of dispersion, a counter-law of aggregation for "the spiritual," which makes mightily for holiness. For Christianity is a life, and life is complex, and therefore can only be lived by many who agree. There should be centers of high religious influence everywhere, but those centers should be strong.

3. That the allotments of the Levites, though Sufficient, were far from being extensive, on any understanding of the text. Even so, for those who would be an example to Christ's flock, sufficiency is the rule, and nothing more (1 Timothy 6:8). God does not design poverty for his own (Luke 12:31), unless voluntarily embraced (Luke 12:33), but assuredly not wealth (Luke 6:24).

4. That the object aimed at in the allotment of their cities was to give each tribe, and even each tribesman, a personal and local interest in the Levites. Even so it is the will of God that those who specially follow after him should be identified as strongly as possible with those around them, in order that these may love and reverence them. Every Christian land has its "saints," by whom it is the more edified in that it feels them to be specially its own.

Consider also, mystically—

1. That the Levitical cities numbered forty-eight, i.e; 12 x 4—the first being the symbol of the universal (apostolic—see Revelation 21:14) Church, the second of the whole earth (Matthew 8:11; Revelation 21:13), the whole signifying diffusion throughout the world. Even so the religious life is universal in all parts of the Church of God, even in those which seem to us most remote.

2. That the enclosures round the Levitical cities measured the same every way—lay foursquare as far as possible. Even so it is the ideal of the religious life that it be not one-sided, or unequal, but attain its full-development in all directions; if not it must be starved to some extent.

II. The law of refuge from the goel is one of the most striking, and yet difficult, of the foreshadowings of the gospel. It is complicated, in the spiritual interpretation, by the fact that Christ is the Victim with whose blood our hands are stained, and our only Refuge, while he is also typified as Redeemer by the goel, and as Messiah by the anointed priest. Consider, however—

1. That the law presupposed and provided for a state of blood-guiltiness, which brought after it the sentence of death (Genesis 9:6). Even so the gospel presupposes that all have sinned, and have become guilty of the death of Christ, who died for our sins, and have incurred the sentence of eternal death. David said, "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness" (Psalms 51:14), but he had already incurred it (2 Samuel 12:9); and so have we (cf. Hebrews 6:6; Hebrews 10:29).

2. That it provided for such blood-guiltiness as was unwittingly incurred. Even so Christ's excuse for us is that we "know not what we do" (Luke 23:24), and our hope is that we have not willfully and deliberately preferred sin as such (Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13).

3. That it presupposed that the avenger was on foot to take the life of the manslayer. Even so the gospel testifies by its very offers of mercy that the Divine justice is surely gone forth with the edict of death against every soul that hath sinned, and that it is a mere matter of time when that justice shall overtake the sinner (Genesis 3:3; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 3:9, Romans 3:19, &c.).

4. That it pleased God to open a door of safety to the fugitive without staying the avenger. For the mission of the goel was very needful for that age, and yet it was the will of God to spare the unwitting homicide. Even so it has pleased God in a wonderful manner to provide a refuge for the sinner without compromising the Divine justice. The wrath of God against sin and the necessary punishment of sin are declared by the very means which bring salvation to the sinner (Romans 3:26, &c.).

5. That this refuge was so distributed in six cities, three on each side Jordan, that it was everywhere accessible. Even so the sinner's refuge in Jesus Christ is everywhere and by all accessible, if they will without delay flee into it (Hebrews 6:18, &c.). And note that whereas almost all other religious privilege and promise was concentrated at Jerusalem, this refuge was distributed to all quarters of Jewish settlement, intimating that salvation in Christ is attainable wherever men call upon his name (Romans 9:33, &c.).

6. That in order to be safe the manslayer must flee to the city of refuge, which was a Levitical city (not a solitary post or a mere sanctuary), and there must take up his abode among the Levites. Even so the sinner who desires to escape from the sentence of Divine justice must flee for refuge unto Christ to take hold on his merits; but in doing so he does ipso facto find a home in the society of the truly faithful, and in that society he will abide. The life of one that is escaped from wrath is not a solitary-walk with God, but a dwelling in a populous city (Acts 2:42; Colossians 3:15; Hebrews 12:22, Hebrews 12:23; cf. Psalms 31:21, &c.).

7. That the manslayer must never stir outside his refuge at risk of his life; if he did, the goel was at liberty to slay him. Even so the sinner must never quit his refuge in Christ for one hour, lest he perish; neither may he (which is part of the same thing) withdraw from the society of the faithful, for that is his (outward) protection. At whatever risk and less of things temporal, he must abide under the shelter of the atonement.

Consider again, with respect to the death of the high priest, and the staying of blood-feuds—

1. That the high priest typified Christ, not in that he died by virtue of individual mortality, but in that he lived by virtue of official immortality (see on Numbers 20:28; Hebrews 7:24, Hebrews 7:25); wherefore it is contrary to the whole analogy of Scripture to attribute any power of atonement to the death of the high priest.

2. That the high priest was not only the mediator and intercessor for Israel, but was also the chief minister of the law of God, and therefore the avenger of all iniquity against Israel, especially of all blood-guiltiness; in a word, he represented Divine justice as well as Divine compassion.

3. That the death of the high priest, which set the escaped manslayer free from all constraints and restrictions, must be taken to represent the passing away (as far as we are concerned) of the law of God as directed against sin. But this will only be when sin itself shall have wholly ceased, i.e; at the resurrection of the just; then, and only then, will all restraints, all constraints, all necessities for sacrifice and renunciation, all penalties for forsaking the society of the faithful, be for ever abolished as no longer needful.

Consider also, in connection with this—

1. That the word goel is translated avenger, kinsman, and redeemer; the same personage sustaining in fact all these characters, and that by a natural law due to the circumstances of the age.

2. That our Lord is unquestionably our God, in that he is our Kinsman, who has made himself our nearest blood relation, and in that he is our Redeemer, who hath redeemed for us our forfeited possession in the kingdom of heaven.

3. That he is also our Goel in that he is in readiness to avenge as Judge all wrongs done unto the temporal or spiritual lives of his own. This is indeed little considered, but is certainly true, since he alone wields all power in heaven and in earth (see Matthew 28:18; Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 4:13, where the "Word of God" is evidently the personal Word; Luke 18:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Revelation 6:10; Revelation 19:2, &c.).

4. That the work and office of Christ as Avenger and Defender of his own will cease and determine with the final end of all wickedness, and then he will be Goel no longer in this sense (see 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 compared with Revelation 7:17, &c.). And this change, whereby the Avenger will be wholly swallowed up in the Kinsman and Redeemer, seems to be symbolized by the death of the high priest (see above).

III. The laws of manslaughter here declared have rather a moral than a spiritual value. The one thing which they uphold as a principle is the sanctity of human life, and the duty of inflicting capital punishment for murder, as laid down in Genesis 9:1-29. It is difficult to see that this duty is less under the gospel, because the bringing in of the gospel has not changed the fundamental relations of man to his Maker as based upon creation; rather it would seem to have added to the sanctity of human life by adding to the ties which knit that life to the life of God (cf. Acts 9:4, Acts 9:5; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 2 Peter 1:4). Whatever may be held, however, as touching the duties of civil governors, we may consider—

1. That the sin against God involved in murder is enormous, and this guilt is incurred by every one that hateth his brother (1 John 3:15).

2. That the guilt of murder lay before God in the intention to kill, wherefore murders also proceed out of the heart (Mark 7:21).

3. That it was laid upon the congregation to show by prompt and righteous procedure that they had no sympathy with the murderer.

4. That in the absence of such vindication of justice the land was polluted with blood in the eyes of God, who dwelt therein.

5. That there is a crime which is murder, but is worse than any killing of the body, i.e; the destroying of the soul by leading it into sin.

6. That it is laid upon all the faithful to show their horror and detestation of this crime by their treatment of seducers and tempters (1 Corinthians 5:11; Eph 5:11; 2 Timothy 2:21; 2 John 1:11).

7. That indulgence and sympathy extended to destroyers of souls that have not repented brings down the wrath of God upon a Church, and makes it hateful in his eyes (see Isaiah 1:21, &c.).

8. That this sinful indulgence of seducers is excused by human considerations, in forgetfulness that God is in the midst of his people, and that every sin so lightly excused or ignored stares him in the face (2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 2:1).

9. That if the blood of Abel cried to him from the ground, and if the land of Canaan could not be cleansed from the blood of its slain, how much more will he be moved by that destruction of immortal souls which is wrought by the wicked lives and solicitations of bad Christians I


Numbers 35:1-8


Unlike the other tribes, the Levites were to have no inheritance in the land. The names of Judah, Ephraim, Manasseh, Reuben figure on the map of Palestine, each giving name to a province or county of its own; but the map knows no tribe of Levi. The Lord was the inheritance of this tribe. For their subsistence the Levites were to depend partly on the tithe, partly on certain dues and perquisites, supplemented by the free-will offerings of the faithful. But although they were landless, it was never the Lord's will that they should be houseless. A vagabond ministry could not have failed to be a scandalous ministry. Accordingly, the law here provides dwellings for the sacred tribe in forty-eight Levitical cities.


1. That the forty-eight cities, although denominated "Levitical cities," were not denoted exclusively to members of this tribe. For example, Hebron, which was perhaps the most noted of the forty-eight, being the city of refuge for what was afterwards the whole kingdom of Judah, formed part of the inheritance of Caleb the Kenezite (Joshua 14:14). Doubtless many families of Judah would also be found among the residents; for the city belonged to Judah. What the Levites obtained was not, in any instance, exclusive possession of the city, but certain houses within the walls, and certain pasture grounds ("glebe lands") adjoining. The houses and glebes thus set apart became the inalienable inheritance of the respective Levitical families. They were as strictly entailed as the lands which constituted the patrimony of the other families in Israel. If at any time they were sold for debt, they reverted to the family at the Jubilee.

2. The Levitical cities were scattered up and down the whole country. The arrangement was a remarkable one. At first sight, indeed, it looks awkward and unnatural. For were not the Levites set apart to do the service of the sanctuary? Would it not have been more convenient to have had them located where they would have been within easy reach of the sanctuary? In the ideal arrangement sketched in Ezekiel's vision, the Levitical families are seen located in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The circumstance that the law ordained an arrangement so different was meant, I cannot doubt, to suggest to the Levites that they had other duties to discharge in Israel besides doing the service of the sanctuary. It was the will of God that they should, in their several districts, be the stated teachers of the people in the Divine law (Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 2:4-8). This office and calling of the Levites being so honourable, it has often been thought strange that their dispersion throughout Israel should have been predicted by Jacob as a curse upon the tribe for their father's sin (Genesis 49:7). In itself it was honourable; nevertheless the words of the patriarch were fulfilled in the end. When the ten tribes revolted from the house of David, they fell away also from the sanctuary; and the Levites dwelling within those tribes had to choose between forfeiting their cities or being cut off from the sanctuary. In either case they found how bitter it was to be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel.


1. It has been usual to see in the distribution of the Levites over the whole land a type, and prelude of the arrangement which, in Christendom, assigns to every parish and every congregation its own pastor. The apostles "ordained elders in every city." Ministers of the gospel are not to be massed together in the great cities, but to be scattered everywhere, so that no family in God's Israel may be beyond reach of one "at whose mouth they may seek the law." Of the institutions which have co-operated to make society what it is in the Christian nations, it would not be easy to name one which has been more influential for good than this.

2. The arrangement may be regarded as representing the principle according to which the lot of Christ's people in this world is ordered. The faithful do not live apart from other men in towns and provinces of their own. Separation from the world, in this literal sense, has been often the dream of Christian reformers, and not seldom have societies been organized for the purpose of realizing it. But the well-meant schemes have in every case failed. They were bound to fail, for they ran counter to our Lord's great prayer and rule: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). Nor is the reason of the rule doubtful. Christ's people are the salt of the earth; and salt, to do its work, must be mingled with that which it is to preserve. The godly must be content to have ungodly persons, more or fewer, for neighbours so long as they abide in this world. An unmixed "congregation of the righteous" belongs to the felicities of the world to come. But if Christ's people are like the Levites in regard to dispersion, they are like them also in respect to the provision made for their brotherly communion. As the Levites dwelt in their cities with other Levites, so Christians are to be gathered into Churches for mutual comfort and for common work. "We believe in the communion of saints."—B.

Numbers 35:9-29


The law of sanctuary, as it is here laid down, never fails to remind the devout reader of the refuge which God's mercy has provided in Christ for those who, by their sin, have exposed themselves to the vengeance of the law. This way of regarding the matter can be thoroughly justified. At the same time it is well to bear in mind that the law was framed, in the first instance, for a humbler purpose.

I. THE ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF REFUGE CONSIDERED AS A PART OF THE MOSAIC CRIMINAL LAW. In primitive and barbarous states of society the execution of vengeance for murder was devolved by ancient custom on the next kinsman of the murdered man. The goel, the redeemer and kinsman, was also the avenger of blood. The custom is sufficiently harsh and barbarous, and gives rise to blood-feuds and untold miseries. Yet, for the states of society in which it originated, it cannot be dispensed with. There are at this day tribes without number, especially in the East, in which the sanctity of human life is guarded only by fear of the avenger of blood. Accordingly, the law of Moses does not abolish the custom; the next kinsman was still held bound to take vengeance for blood. The aim of the Mosaic jurisprudence was to conserve what was good in the ancient custom, and at the same time to impose such a check upon it as would prevent its abuse. This twofold design was accomplished in the following way:—

1. Certain cities were made sanctuary cities (Exodus 21:13). The avenger of blood might pursue the manslayer to the gate of the city of refuge; might kill him, if he could, before reaching the gate; but at the gate he had to halt and sheathe his sword.

2. Although the gate of the city of refuge was open to every manslayer, the city did not suffer the willful murderer to laugh at the sword of justice. It gave provisional protection to all, but only to save them from the blind and indiscriminating anger of the avenger of blood. The refugees were sheltered only till they had stood a regular trial (Numbers 35:12). If it should be proved to the satisfaction of the congregation that the accused person had been guilty of murder, he was to be delivered up to the avenger of blood to be killed.

3. If, on the contrary, it should be found that the manslayer meant no harm, that it was a case of accidental homicide, the city of refuge was to afford him inviolable sanctuary. The law did not (as with us) suffer him to go home free. Accidental homicide is often the result of carelessness. To teach men not to trifle with the sanctity of life, the manslayer, although no murderer, had to confine himself to the city of his refuge. But so long as he abode within its walls he was safe.

II. THE ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF REFUGE CONSIDERED AS A TYPE. That it had a typical reference might be gathered (were there nothing else) from the direction that the manslayer was to continue in the sanctuary city "until the death of the high priest;" a meaningless provision if the statute had been only a piece of criminal law. Considered as a type, the ordinance represents—

1. Our condition as sinners. We are exposed to the vengeance of God's law, and the stroke may fall upon us at any moment. A condition in which there can be no solid peace.

2. What Christ is to those who are found in him. He is their High Priest, whose life is the security for their life; who "is able to save to the uttermost, seeing he ever liveth" (Hebrews 7:25). And he is their Refuge, insomuch that for them the one thing needful is that they be found in him (Romans 8:1, Romans 8:38, Romans 8:39; Philippians 3:8, Philippians 3:9).

3. How we may obtain the salvation which is in Christ. It is by fleeing into him for refuge and thereafter abiding in him continually. In him we are safe, out of him we are lost. This way of salvation is such as renders inexcusable those who neglect it. The cities of refuge were so distributed that no manslayer had far to run before reaching one. There were three on each side of Jordan; of the three, in each case, one lay near the north border, one near the south border, and one in the middle. Every city was the natural center of its province and accessible from every side. They were so situated that no fugitive required to cross either a river or a mountain chain before reaching his refuge. How strikingly is all this realized in Christ our refuge!—B.

Numbers 35:30-34


This passage brings up a subject not often discussed in the pulpit. Yet it surely is a subject which comes home to the business of us all. In a country like ours the administration of justice, the execution of vengeance on evil-doers, is a duty in which every one has to bear a part. We may not all be officers of justice, but we must all act as informers, or witnesses, or jurymen. It is of high importance, therefore, that every member of the community should be well instructed regarding the principles which lie at the foundation of the criminal law, and, in particular, should know why and on what authority the community lays hold upon evil-doers and inflicts on them the punishment of their crimes.

I. Observe THE OCCASION of the statute here delivered. It is an appendix to the law regarding the cities of refuge. That law was designed to shield the involuntary homicide from the avenger of blood. The intention was good; but good intentions do not always prevent dangerous mistakes. It often happens that good men in labouring to cast out one evil open the door to a greater evil. A follower of John Howard may so press the duty of humanity towards prisoners as to deprive the prison of its deterrent power. So in Israel there was a danger that the care taken to restrain the avenger of blood from touching the involuntary manslayer might have the effect of deadening the public sense of the enormity of murder, and weakening men's resentment against the murderer. The design of the statute before us is to prevent so mischievous a result.


1. The ancient law which condemned the murderer to death is solemnly reaffirmed (verse 30; compare with verses 16-21 and Genesis 9:6). To be sure, the extreme penalty ought not to be executed without extreme circumspection. The unsupported testimony of one witness is not to be held sufficient to sustain a charge of murder. Nevertheless, if there is sufficient evidence, the sword must strike, the murderer must not be suffered to go free.

2. The death penalty may not be commuted into a fine (verse 31). In regard to this point the Mosaic law dithers from many, perhaps from most other primitive codes; for they suffered the murderer to compound with the kinsmen of his victim by paying a fine in cattle or in money. The law of Moses suffered no such composition. The murderer must be put to death. Even the restraint to which the law subjected the involuntary manslayer was not suffered to be relaxed by a money payment. In all cases affecting the sanctity of life pecuniary compositions are utterly forbidden.

III. THE REASON OF THIS STATUTE is carefully explained (verses 33, 34). The reason lies in these three principles:—

1. "Blood defileth the land" (cf. Psalms 106:38). That sin defiles the sinner, that murder especially defiles the conscience of the murderer—these are facts patent to all. It is not so often observed that crime perpetrated in a city defiles the whole city. The whole community has a share in the guilt. Hence the remarkable law laid down in Deuteronomy 21:1-9 for the expiation of an uncertain murder.

2. The proper expiation of murder is by the death of the murderer. "The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein but by the blood of him that shed it." Justice is satisfied, the honour of the law vindicated, when the murderer is put to death, and not otherwise. To accept a pecuniary satisfaction for blood is simply to pollute the land.

3. In this whole matter the paramount consideration ought to be the honour of God. Murder is criminal beyond all other offences, because it is the defacement of the image of God in man. Murder must not go unavenged, because it defiles the laud before God. Let these principles be carefully weighed. They set in a clear light the true and adequate reason for inflicting punishment on evil-doers. The true reason is neither the reformation of the criminal (for the sword must strike although there should be no hope of reformation) nor the protection of society. These are important objects, and not to be overlooked; but the proper reason of punishment is the vindication of righteousness, the executing of vengeance on the man who doeth evil (Romans 13:4).

IV. In conclusion, DOES NOT ALL THIS SHED WELCOME' LIGHT ON THE ATONEMENT OF OUR BLESSED LORD? The death of Christ for our sins accomplished many great and precious purposes. It was an affecting proof of his sympathy with us. it was a revelation of the Father's love. But these purposes do not contain the proper and adequate reason of our Lord's sufferings. He died for our sins. It was necessary that our sins should be cleansed, that expiation or atonement should be made for them. They might have been expiated in our blood. But, blessed be God, his mercy has found out another way. By a blessed exchange Christ has become sin for us; he has borne our sins and made atonement for them. This was the end of his sufferings—to satisfy the justice of the Father for our sins, so that his righteousness might not be dishonoured although we should go free.—B.


Numbers 35:9-34


The laws in regard to the cities of refuge and manslaughter suggest truths on the following subjects. We see in them—

I. A TOLERATION OF WHAT GOD NEITHER HAS APPOINTED NOR APPROVES. The old custom of blood-avenging by the goel, though open to grave abuses, was not altogether proscribed. The laws given by God to Moses were not always absolutely the best, though, relatively to the state of the people, the best they could endure. Other illustrations are found in the laws relating to divorce, polygamy, and slavery. These examples of a wise conservatism suggest lessons for parents, who have to "overlook" (Acts 17:30) the times of ignorance of their children, and for missionaries, who may have for a time to tolerate inevitable evils in converts whose consciences are not yet trained. As God dealt with the Jews during their childhood as a nation, so does he in mercy deal with his sinful children during their education in this life (Psalms 19:12; Psalms 130:3, Psalms 130:4).

II. AN EDUCATION BY MEANS OF THE CUSTOMS OF THE PAST. God tolerated the old custom, but not in its entirety. He modified it, and thus carried on the education of the nation. On the one hand, the cities of refuge were not like the asyla of the Greeks and Romans, for willful murderers were led forth from them to justice (verse 30). On the other band, the homicide by accident was safe under certain conditions (verse 12, 25-28). So too now God discriminates between willful sins (Hebrews 10:26-31, Hebrews 10:38, Hebrews 10:39) and sins of ignorance and imprudence, which may bring after them serious disabilities, but do not doom to destruction.

III. A PREFIGURATION OF SPIRITUAL TRUTH IN THE FUTURE. The cities of refuge, if not strictly a type, are an illustration of Christ, the sinner's refuge. The rules prescribed by Jews in regard to the road being kept in good condition, finger-posts being provided, &c; suggest various applications.

1. The cities of refuge were near every portion of the land, and Christ is within reach of every one of us.

2. The way was to be made plain; and the word of the truth of the gospel is plain, so that "he that readeth it may run" straight to the refuge.

3. Every manslayer, native or foreign, received the shelter of the refuge; and sinners of every degree of guilt and every nation have no safety except in Christ.

4. Within the city, and "in Christ," there is no condemnation.

5. To quit the refuge, and to "go away" from Christ, is to meet destruction.

6. A murderer had but the appearance of safety within the city, and the willful sinner can find no shelter from the wrath of God even when professing to believe in Christ.—P.


Numbers 35:1-8


God had laid upon the tribe of Levi many and onerous services, such as gave full occupation for their time (Numbers 1:1-54, Numbers 3:1-51, Numbers 4:1-49, Numbers 8:1-26, Numbers 28:1-31, Numbers 29:1-40); he had also made abundant provision for their support in the matter of food (Numbers 18:1-32.); it remained that he should give a clear indication of where they were to find a place of abode in Canaan. If their particular place of settlement was important to the other tribes, it was surely of peculiar importance to the tribe which in a representative aspect stood nearer to God than any of the rest. Levi, with all its solemn responsibilities, would assuredly not have been tolerated in such an assertion of self-will as came from Reuben and Gad. As we examine the mode of settlement indicated in this passage, we perceive how God points out the golden mean between too much concentration and too much diffusion.

I. THE LEVITES WERE SO SETTLED AS TO AVOID THE GREAT EVILS CONSEQUENT ON UNDUE CONCENTRATION. They might have had the tabernacle fixed up in a certain tribal allotment of their own, and then what would have happened? Those living at a distance from the territory of Levi would have been debarred from many privileges belonging to those in immediate proximity. God is no respecter of persons. He did all that was possible to put every tribe in Israel in a position of religious equality. The proportion of land and the proportion of Levitical service was to be according to the needs of each tribe.

1. Thus, by a judicious diffusion, the unity of the nation was promoted. Different circumstances require different means for the same end. While the Israelites were encamped in the wilderness, the tribe of Levi was all together, in the midst of the camp, and immediately around the tabernacle. But when the Israelites became distributed in Canaan, the Levites were distributed also, thus acting still as a principle of unity, although in a different way. And this distribution had been made all the more necessary since two tribes and a half had chosen to dwell on the east of Jordan. That the Israelites themselves were not supremely conscious of the need of unity had been shown only too clearly by the conduct of Reuben and Gad. Much more was wanted than to lie side by side within the same borders. A mere geographical unity was a mockery, a delusion, and a snare.

2. This judicious diffusion also helped in promoting the knowledge of all that needed to be known in Israel. The Levites were privileged to become—and the privilege was a very high one—the guides, instructors, counselors, and monitors of the people. That which God had made known to Moses needed to be brought down very patiently and carefully to individual, private, daily life. The Levites had ample opportunities to explain the commandments of God and the significance of the types, the rites and ceremonies, and the great historic commemorations. And as the history of Israel grew, there grew with it opportunities to stimulate and warn by pointing out the mingled glory and shame of the nation's career, and the lessons to be learnt front considering the men who had been conspicuous in that career (2 Chronicles 35:3). But these opportunities of instruction only came because God had sufficiently distributed the instructors throughout the land. If a house is to be fully lighted up there must be a light in every room. Those who are already instructed must be where they can firmly lay hold of the ignorant, for the ignorant in the things of God need not only to be instructed, but first of all thoroughly wakened out of sleep.

3. This diffusion also indicated the service which all Israel was to render to the world. What Levi was to Israel, that Israel was to become to all mankind. Levi was diffused through the whole nation, and only kept its individuality as a tribe in proportion as it kept its fidelity to God. Other tribes were distinguished by their territory; Levi by being specially engaged in the holy service of the tabernacle and the temple. Thus what a benefit has been produced—more real perhaps than exactly appreciated—by the dispersion of Israel among all nations to bear their own peculiar, solemn, and pathetic testimony to Israel's God, and to the historic verity of the Old Testament! Thus also does God make his own gracious and comprehensive arrangements to diffuse believers in his Son throughout the world, according to the spiritual needs of the world. In one sense they are rigorously separated from the world, even as Israel was by the hard and fast lines of the national borders; in another sense they are meant to be so diffused that wherever there is a dark place, there the light of the truth as it is in Jesus may brightly shine. The gospel is debtor to all nations and all ranks, to both sexes and to all ages. We find the true Israelite in every society where a man has any right to be at all among the highest and the lowest; in Parliaments, in courts of justice, in commerce, in literature, in science, and in art.

II. CARE WAS ALSO TAKEN IN THE SETTLEMENT OF THE LEVITES THAT THE NECESSARY DIFFUSION SHOULD NOT BE PUSHED TOO FAR. They were to be distributed through all Israel, but not according to the free choice of the individual Levite. Forty-eight cities, with sufficient accompanying land, were set apart for them. Thus, by fixing a limit of diffusion, God conferred a benefit both on them and on the whole people. Those who are engaged in a special work of such incalculable importance as the work of the Levites was, need to be where they can frequently counsel, comfort, and encourage one another. It was not good for the Levites to be alone. To be isolated was in itself a sore temptation. And though the work of God is only truly done where there is individual consecration, energy, and initiative, yet he is not a wise Christian who sets lightly by the advantage he gains from frequent recourse to those like-minded with himself. A certain measure of coherence among the Levites was needed for a healthy and profitable state of the official life. You shall have a fire blazing brightly in the grate, and if you leave it so it will go on for a long time giving out its flame, heat, and light. But take the pieces of coal and range them separately on the hearth, and very quickly the glowing fragments will become a dull red and soon die out altogether. The limits which God fixes are wise and loving limits; he ever keeps us from all the dangers of extremes. The Levites were neither to be too much separated from the people nor too much mingled with them.—Y.

Numbers 35:9-34


We in our modern English life have an experience of the stability of social order, of general submission to a national law, and of confidence in the strict administration of justice, which causes this provision for the cities of refuge to come on us in a very unexpected way. We are not unprepared to read the other announcements which come at the close of this Book—i.e; the strict injunction to expel the Canaanites, the allotment of the inheritance, and the Divine marking out of the boundaries of the land; but this appointment of the cities of refuge is like a great light suddenly lighted up to reveal to us the peculiar social state of Israel.

I. We are brought face to face with A TIME WHEN THERE WAS NO GENERAL AND SECURE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE. God had to make provision here for a strong feeling which had evidently grown up through many centuries. This provision pointed back to those unsocial days when the only effectual avengers of murder were the kinsmen of the slain person. The punishment of the murderer had come to be regarded as a family duty, because no one else would concern himself with it. And in the course of time what had begun in necessity ended in a conventional sense of honour, and of the obligations of kinship, which there was no way of escaping. Private revenge, whatever its abuses, whatever the dark instigations to it in the heart of the avenger, was in a certain sense imperatively necessary when there was no efficient public tribunal of justice. Thus we see how much of the barbaric element still remained in Israel. It is a matter of common agreement among us that a man must not take the law into his own hands, but in ancient Israel every man seems to have done it without the slightest hesitation.

II. We have here another illustration of THE ALLOWANCE THAT WAS MADE FOR HARDNESS OF HEART ON THE PART OF ISRAEL. When the Pharisees came to our Lord, tempting him with a question concerning divorce, he replied, "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives" (Matthew 19:8). So here we may say that Moses, because of the hardness of heart in Israel, provided these cities of refuge. It was no manner of use to tell the goel, the blood avenger, not to pursue the manslayer. If he had neglected to do so he would have rested under heavy reproach all the days of his life. Moses knew well how deeply fixed was this institution of blood revenge. Had he not himself, in his patriotic zeal, taken the law into his own hand some eighty years before, and slain the Egyptian? God might indeed have forbidden this blood revenge altogether, but the command would have been a dead letter. He did a more efficacious thing in providing these cities of refuge. The existence of them was incompatible with the continuance in undiminished vigour of the practice of blood revenge. By appointing them God recognized the necessity out of which the practice had arisen. He allowed all that might be good and conscientious in the motive of the avenger. If the person pursued were really guilty of willful murder, he could not escape; the city of refuge was no refuge for him. The line between murder and accidental homicide was very plainly drawn. Under such a system as God had established in Israel he could not but protect the unfortunate man who was fleeing from a passionate, unreasoning pursuer, and secure for him a fair inquiry. Everything was done to secure the best interests of all. God could not but honour his own solemn and exalted command, "Thou shalt not kill."

III. An illustration also of THE UNDESERVED CALAMITIES WHICH MAY COME UPON A MAN IN A WORLD WHERE SIN REIGNS EVEN UNTO DEATH, One man slaying another unwittingly deserves our deepest pity and sympathy. We have heard of those to whom such a misfortune had come having to walk softly all the days of their life because of the unintended act. They could not get it out of their minds. Yet here, in addition to possible grief of heart, there was a serious, a long, perhaps a life-long, disadvantage. The homicide, however really innocent he might be, had to flee for his life and stay in the city of refuge till the death of the high priest. Thus we have another proof of the manifold power which death has to disturb the world. These inconveniences to the manslayer could not all at once be removed. We live in a world where we not only may in a spirit of love bear one another's burdens, but some of them we must bear as a matter of necessity. The unwitting homicide had to bear the consequences of his fellow-man being mortal. Yet at the same time we are made to see how God was surely advancing to break the power of death. The lot of the manslayer was greatly mended by the institution of these cities of refuge. We may well believe that in the course of time their character became so recognized that this particular obligation of the goel would fall into disuse; the nation would come to accept the security, the superiority, and the rightness of public justice.

IV. Consider the points in connection with the institution of cities of refuge which show THE RESPECT FOR HUMAN LIFE WHICH GOD WAS SEEKING TO TEACH THE PEOPLE. The path of Israel from Egypt to Canaan had indeed been marked by much of violent death. The overwhelming of Pharaoh's army, all the sudden visitations of Divine wrath upon Israel, the slaying in battle of the Amalekites, Amorites, and Midianites—these had made God to seem as if he were continually girt with the horrid instruments of the executioner. But for all these acts, dreadful as they were, there was a reason—a Divine, and therefore sufficient, reason. Whatever was done Was done judicially. If the circumstances and times of the Israelites are taken into account, sufficient cause will appear for the frequency with which God had recourse to violent death in the carrying out of his punitive purposes. Then, with respect to murder, it was the feeling of the time that a murderer must not be suffered to live. Putting the murderer to death was the only effectual way in those semi-savage times of teaching respect for life. Respect for life was taught to the avenger by putting the city of refuge between him and the unwitting homicide. Respect for life was taught also by the inconvenience, to say the least of it, to which the homicide was put. It was taught by the requiring of more than one witness to establish a capital charge. And we also need more respect for human life than we often, show. We should not take it so recklessly and exultingly in war; we should not take it under an insufficient plea of necessity on the gallows. There is a lamentable way of speaking of the brutal and hardened members of society, the class from which murderers so often come, as if they were little better than vermin. Many seem to think that it is a matter of no great consequence whether a man be hanged or not. True, he has to die at last; but surely there is a great difference between death when it comes in spite of the attempts of physician and attendants to ward it off, and when it comes by our deliberate infliction of it. We have all sorts of institutions and instruments to defend life by land and by sea; we have one hideous instrument, the gallows, to take it away. And as we see God advancing men, by the appointment of these cities of refuge, from the "wild justice" of private revenge to a calm reliance on public justice, so we may hope that the spirit of love and the spirit of Christ will more and more prevail amongst us, till at last the gallows will be banished, if not into utter oblivion, at all events into antiquarian obscurity.

V. CONSIDER HOW THESE CITIES OF REFUGE WERE TO BE LEVITICAL CITIES, It was fitting that the Levites should have charge of these cities, since the Levites belonged to no tribe in particular, but to the whole nation. They were removed from the temptation which would otherwise have come, if the city of refuge had belonged to the same tribe as the blood avenger. Unless the city of refuge was made really efficacious, it was no city of refuge at all. Giving Levi the charge of these cities also prevented jealousies between tribes. It conferred too on the homicide certain privileges he might not otherwise have had; he gained opportunities of Levitical instruction. God can make his own abiding compensations to those who fall into calamity by no fault of their own. None can really hurt us but ourselves in that which is inward, permanent, and of real importance.

VI. CONSIDER HOW THE DEATH OF THE HIGH PRIEST AFFECTED THE POSITION OF THE UNWITTING MANSLAYER. He was then free from any further disability and need of confinement. The death of the high priest had a great expiatory effect. According to the value of the types, he was holier than all the unblemished beasts, and his death counted for very much indeed in its cleansing efficacy. Thus we see, by this reference to the death of the high priest, how God regarded his own honour as a holy God. Blood defiled the land, even when spilt unwittingly, and nothing less than the death of the high priest could cleanse away the stain. Nothing less could do it, but this did it quite sufficiently.—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 33". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/numbers-33.html. 1897.
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