Numbers 35
Benson Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,
Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them.
Numbers 35:2. That they give unto the Levites — cities — The reason of this appointment was, that the Levites, being a body of people distinct from the rest of the nation, had no share in the division of the country. It is to be observed that the priests, the sons of Aaron, being also of the tribe of Levi, are here comprehended under the common name of Levites, as well as those inferior ministers of religion generally signified by that term.

And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts.
Numbers 35:3. The cities shall they have to dwell in — Notwithstanding this provision, it was lawful for them to hire or purchase houses in any other city, particularly at Jerusalem; for we find in Scripture many proofs of their dwelling in other cities besides those which are here assigned them; and, in like manner, other people, with their permission, might dwell with them in their cities. The suburbs for their cattle and for their goods — For stables and pasturage for their cattle, and stowages for their household stuff of all kinds. But they might not build houses, nor plant gardens, orchards, or vineyards; no, nor sow corn in these suburbs, for which things they were abundantly supplied from the first-fruits. And these suburbs did not belong to the Levites in common, but were distributed to them in convenient proportions. They were thus provided for, that they might the more closely attend to the study of the law, and might have more leisure for teaching the people. And living thus near together, they could easily converse one with another about divine things, to their mutual edification; in doubtful cases could consult each other; and in all cases strengthen one another’s hands.

And the suburbs of the cities, which ye shall give unto the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about.
Numbers 35:4-5. From the wall of the city a thousand cubits — It appears, by comparing these two verses together, that there were three thousand cubits allowed them from the wall of the city; the first thousand, properly called the suburbs, probably for outhouses, gardens, vineyards, and olive-yards; and the other two for pasturage, which are therefore called the field of the suburbs, (Leviticus 25:34,) by way of distinction from the suburbs themselves.

And ye shall measure from without the city on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits; and the city shall be in the midst: this shall be to them the suburbs of the cities.
And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither: and to them ye shall add forty and two cities.
Numbers 35:6-7. Cities for refuge — Or, of escape for manslayers. And these cities are assigned among the Levites, partly because they might be presumed to be the most proper and impartial judges between manslayers and wilful murderers; partly because their presence and authority would more effectually bridle the passions of the avenger of blood who might pursue him thither; and perhaps to signify that it is only in Christ (whom the Levitical priests represented) that sinners find refuge and safety from the destroyer. Three of these cities of refuge were in the land of Canaan, and three on the other side Jordan, (Numbers 35:14,) and the names of them are set down, Joshua 20:7-8. Of the forty-eight cities given to the Levites, thirteen were appointed for the priests.

So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities: them shall ye give with their suburbs.
And the cities which ye shall give shall be of the possession of the children of Israel: from them that have many ye shall give many; but from them that have few ye shall give few: every one shall give of his cities unto the Levites according to his inheritance which he inheriteth.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan;
Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares.
Numbers 35:11. Unawares — Or ignorantly, as it is, Deuteronomy 19:4, and Joshua 20:3; that is, besides his intention, having no such design, and no hatred to him, Numbers 35:22.

And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.
Numbers 35:12. From the avenger — Hebrew, from the redeemer, or, from the next kinsman; to whom, by the law, belonged the right of redemption of the lands of, and vindication of the injury done to, the person deceased. Die not — Be not killed by the avenger meeting him in some other place. Before the congregation — Before the judges or elders who were appointed in every city for the decision of criminal causes, who were to examine, and that publicly before the people, whether the murder was wilful or casual.

And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge.
Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.
Numbers 35:14-16. On this side Jordan — Because that land was as long as Canaan, though not so broad; and besides, these might be convenient for many of them that lived in Canaan. If he smite him — Wittingly and wilfully, though not with premeditated malice. He shall be put to death — Yea, though he had fled into the city of refuge.

These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.
And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
Numbers 35:18. With a hand-weapon — It made no difference with what kind of weapon he was killed, whether it was of iron, wood, or stone. If he was killed wittingly and knowingly, it was murder, and the guilty person was to die for it. For though perhaps he had no intention to kill the person, yet he ought to have moderated his passion, and could not be ignorant that such an instrument was capable of inflicting a deadly wound.

The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
Numbers 35:19. Himself shall slay the murderer — Le Clerc translates it, It shall be lawful for the revenger to kill him: for it seems to be a mere permission, not a precept. He might, without offence to God, or danger to himself, kill the murderer with his own hand. But if he were not able, or did not choose to do it, he stood bound to prosecute him and bring him to justice.

But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die;
Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.
But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait,
Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm:
Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:
And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil.
Numbers 35:25. He shall abide in it — Shall be confined to it. Which was appointed, 1st, To show the hatefulness of murder in God’s account, by such a severe punishment, inflicted upon the very appearance of it: 2d, For the security of the manslayer, lest the presence of such a person, and his living among the kindred of the deceased, might occasion reproach and bloodshed: And, 3d, To teach others to be very watchful over themselves, lest by negligence they should chance to kill any one, and so be compelled to leave their own homes, families, and friends. The death of the high- priest — Perhaps to show that the death of Christ, the true High-Priest, whom the others represented, is the only means whereby sins are pardoned, and sinners set at liberty.

But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled;
And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood:
Numbers 35:27. Not guilty — Not liable to punishment from men, though not free of guilt before God. This God ordained, to oblige the manslayer to abide in his city of refuge.

Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession.
So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.
Numbers 35:30-31. By the mouth of witnesses — A wise precaution to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. If we may credit the Jews, where there was but one witness, and the person accused of murder could not, therefore, be put to death, yet he did not escape without punishment, but was thrown into a very strait prison, and there fed with bread and water. Ye shall take no satisfaction — This rigid severity of the law served to impress the minds of the people with a deep sense of the heinousness of the crime of murder, since nothing less than the blood of the murderer could compensate for the crime, and cleanse the land from its pollution. And it is but just in itself that life should pay for life.

Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death.
And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest.
So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.
Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel.
Numbers 35:34. Defile not the land wherein I dwell — It is often assigned as a reason why they should put away all polluted persons and things out of their camp and land, because God dwelt in them, by his peculiar presence, whence this land was called the Holy Land. It is the case of all crimes, that they defile the land in which they are committed, and render it odious and unclean in the sight of God; but it is more especially true of murder, which is the highest of all injuries against human society, and against God, in whose image man was created.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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