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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 35

 

 

Verses 1-8

Numbers 35:1-8. Appointment of Levitical Cities and Cities of Refuge.—This law must be supplementary to, and later than, the law in Numbers 18:8-32, which does not contemplate the assignment to the Levites of cities in addition to the tithes, and indeed, definitely denies to them any territorial possessions (Numbers 18:20; cf. Deuteronomy 18:1). The cities here bestowed on the Levites are forty-eight in number, and are enumerated in Joshua 21; but the facts (a) that some did not come fully under Israelitish ownership until after Joshua's death (e.g. Gezer, see p. 28, Judges 1:29*, 1 Kings 9:16*), and (b) that priests (who naturally shared the lands conferred upon the tribe of Levi) dwelt at a later time in several places (e.g. Nob and Shiloh) which are not included in the list of cities named in Joshua 21:13-19, render the grant of such cities extremely doubtful. In the delimitation of the pasture grounds (Numbers 35:2 mg.) of the cities, there is a curious oversight, for since they are to extend 1000 cubits from each city in every direction, forming a square of which each side is only 2000 cubits, the city within the square is reduced to a point, Included within the forty-eight cities were six cities of refuge where involuntary homicides could find protection. In Deuteronomy 19:7 f. only three cities (which are named in Deuteronomy 4:41-43) are represented as assigned at once, it being directed that other three are to be added if Israel's territory should be enlarged, whilst in Joshua 20:7 f. the selection of all of them is ascribed to Joshua. Historically, however, the limitation of asylum to particular cities was doubtless introduced at a later date even than Joshua's age. At first any altar of Yahweh afforded refuge (Exodus 21:13 f.; cf. 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28); but after the abolition of the local altars and the centralisation of worship enjoined in Dt., the right of asylum was reserved for certain ancient sacred places. The connexion of the right of asylum with sanctuaries was common in antiquity, and existed (for example) among the Phœnicians at Tyre, Paphos, and Amalthus, among the Syrians at Daphnæ, near Antioch, and among the Greeks at Tegea. The privilege belonged to Christian churches in the Middle Ages; and some Indian tribes in N. America also have places where man-slayers are protected (Frazer, Pausanias, iii. p. 315). See further Deuteronomy 19:1-13*, Joshua 20*.

Numbers 35:6. Read, "And as for the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites, six cities of refuge ye shall give," etc.


Verses 9-34

Numbers 35:9-34. Conditions Limiting the Privilege of Sanctuary.—Anciently the holiness of a sanctuary extended to all who came in contact with it, so that the right of asylum was liable to be abused; but by this law protection at a city of refuge was to be refused to those homicides who in the judgment of the community, on the evidence of two witnesses, were guilty of murder, as inferred from (a) the existence of previous enmity or evidence of premeditation, (b) the use of a murderous weapon. Those who were guilty of manslaughter only (see Deuteronomy 19:4 f.) were safe within the city during the lifetime of the high priest: after his death they ceased to be liable to vengeance. Though the law promoted justice by discriminating between the intentional and the unintentional homicide, it still left the punishment of the former to private revenge instead of committing it to the community.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 35:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/numbers-35.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 1st, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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