|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
20:1-6 When the Israelites were settled in their promised inheritance, they were reminded to set apart the cities of refuge, whose use and typical meaning have been explained, Nu 35; De 19. God's spiritual Israel have, and shall have in Christ and heaven, not only rest to repose in, but refuge to secure themselves in. These cities were designed to typify the relief which the gospel provides for penitent sinners, and their protection from the curse of the law and the wrath of God, in our Lord Jesus, to whom believers flee for refuge, Heb 6:18.
Verse 3. - Unawares and unwittingly. Literally, in error, in not knowing. Numbers 35:16-18 and Deuteronomy 19:5, give a clear explanation of what is here meant. Knobel notices that the first of these expressions is found in Leviticus 4:2, and the second in Deuteronomy 4:42. The latter is "superfluous," and therefore a "filling up of the Deuteronomist." The "Deuteronomist" must have been very active in his "filling up." If he were really so lynx-eyed in a matter of style, it is a wonder that he was so careless, as we are told he is, in matters of fact. To more ordinary minds it would seem as if the author, familiar with the books of Moses, was quoting Deuteronomy for the precept, and Leviticus for the nature of the offence. The avenger of blood. The Hebrew word is worthy of notice. It is Goel; that is, literally, redeemer, one who buys back at the appointed price what has fallen into other hands, as a farm, a field, a slave, or anything consecrated to God. Hence, since the duly of such redemption, on the death of the owner, devolved upon the nearest relative, it came to mean "blood relation." Thus Boaz (Ruth 4:1, 6, 8) is called the Goel of Elimelech and his widow. In the present passage, the phrase "the redeemer (LXX. ἀγχιστεύων next of kin) of the blood" signifies the exactor of the only penalty which can satisfy justice, namely, the death of the murderer. So we are taught in Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:12, 14; Leviticus 24:17, 21. This duty, which in civilised society belongs to the government, in uncivilised tribes is usually left to the relatives of the murdered man. Hence the terrible blood feuds which have raged between families for generations, and which are not only to be found among savage nations, but even in countries which lay claim to civilisation. In Ireland, for instance, it is not so long ago since one of these blood feuds in the county Tipperary had acquired such formidable proportions that the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church there were compelled to resort to a mission in order to put an end to it. A man had been killed nearly a century before in an affray which commenced about the age of a colt. His relatives felt bound to avenge the murder, and their vengeance was again deemed to require fresh vengeance, until faction fights between the "Three-Year-Olds" and the "Four-Year-Olds" had grown almost into petty wars. A thrilling story written by the late Prosper Merimee turns upon the Corsican vendetta, and so true is this story to life that in the very year (1879) in which these words were written an occurrence precisely similar, save in its termination, was reported in the daily journals to have taken place in that island. The only way in which the feud could be terminated was by summoning the representatives of the two families before the authorities and exacting an oath from them that they would cease their strife. It is no small corroboration of the Divine origin of the Mosaic law that we find here a provision for mitigating the evils of this rude code, and for at least delivering the accidental homicide from the penalty of this law of retaliation. Yet for the offence of wilful murder the penalties enjoined by the Jewish law were terribly severe. A deliberate violation of the sanctity of human life was an offence for which no palliation could be pleaded. No right of sanctuary was to be granted to him who had wantonly slain a fellow creature. "No satisfaction" was to be taken for his life (Numbers 35:31). "The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, save by the blood of him that shed it" (ver. 33). Such provisions might be expected of a lawgiver who had laid down as the fundamental principle of humanity that man was created "in the image of God," after His likeness; that God had "breathed the breath of life" into him, and man had thus "become a living soul" (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:7). Such inward harmony is there between Moses' inspired revelations concerning God's purpose in creation, and the precepts he was commanded to deliver to the children of Israel.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
That the slayer that killeth any person unawares, and unwittingly, may flee thither,.... Who through mere accident, and without design, killed a person, friend or foe, one of his own kindred, or a stranger, without any malice against him, or intention to take away his life:
and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood; from any of the relations of the deceased, who might be stirred up to avenge the blood of his kinsman on the slayer; see Numbers 35:12.
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