Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,1–8. The Levitical cities
The Levites are to receive 48 cities with their surrounding land (E.VV. ‘suburbs’), six of which are to be ‘cities of refuge.’ The cities are to be contributed by each tribe in numbers proportionate to its size. Each plot of land is to be a square of 2,000 cubits (c. 1,000 yards). The carrying out of this law is related in fuller detail in Joshua 21, where the allotment is as follows: the Kohathite Levites were given 10 towns in Ephraim, Dan and western Manasseh, the Gershonites 13 in Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and eastern Manasseh, the Merarites 12 in Reuben, Gad and Zebulun, while the priests had 10 in Judah, Simeon and Benjamin.
Two considerations, however, shew that this is a purely ideal arrangement, which could never have been actually brought about: 1st, In a hilly country like Palestine, cut with deep ravines, it would be impossible to find 48 square plots of land of such a size. 2nd, It is at variance with statements in earlier passages, (a) In Deuteronomy the Levites are classed with widows, orphans and strangers, as poor people who are commended to the charity of Israel; cf. Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 12:18 f., Numbers 14:27; Numbers 14:29, Numbers 16:11; Numbers 16:14, Numbers 26:11 ff. In a few cases, indeed, priests settled in communities, and appear to have owned property, e.g. at Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26, Jeremiah 32:6 ff.), Nob (1 Samuel 21:1; 1 Samuel 22:19) and Bethel (Amos 7:10); but the two latter towns are not included in the list in Joshua 21. Deuteronomy 18:8 b may imply that some Levitical priests owned private property, but the passage is uncertain. (b) In Numbers 18, which must belong to an earlier stage of P than the present passage, the offerings to be made to the priests are expressly stated to be due to them because they have no landed property. Ezekiel (ch. 48) puts forward another ideal scheme for providing priests and Levites with land.
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.2. suburbs] ‘pasture lands’ (marg.) rightly represents the true force of the word, which denotes lit. a place for driving cattle (cf. Numbers 35:3). But it came to be used more generally of common land surrounding a town, which all the inhabitants had the right to use. It occurs very frequently in P passages of Josh. and 1 Ch.
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.
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.
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.
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,9–34. The ‘Cities of Refuge,’ and the Law relating to homicide
In Numbers 35:9-15 the appointment of the six cities and their purpose are prescribed; Numbers 35:16-23 contain specimen cases distinguishing deliberate murder from accidental homicide; Numbers 35:24-28 provide the legal procedure; Numbers 35:29-34 form a conclusion.
The section presents the latest development in the O.T. of the Law of Asylum. In early days (Exodus 21:13 f. E ) an appointed place was provided, to which the manslayer might flee, i.e. an altar, which would be within easy reach of every town; cf. 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28. In D (Deuteronomy 19:1-10), when only one altar was permitted, at the national sanctuary at Jerusalem, which would be practically useless for purposes of asylum, special cities were substituted for the local altars. Three cities were specified, and, if Jehovah enlarged the Israelites’ borders, three more were to be added1 [Note: Three have previously been mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:41-43; but it is unlikely that the writer of Deuteronomy 19. understood nine cities to be intended. See Driver, Deut. p. 233.] . If the manslayer be guilty of deliberate murder, the elders of his own city shall send to the city whither he has fled for asylum, and shall deliver him up to the gô’çl or ‘avenger of blood’; but if the homicide was accidental, he may stay in safety in the city whither he has fled. In the present passage (P ) the regulations are fuller. Of the six cities three are to be on each side of the Jordan (the fulfilment of the command, with the name of the cities, is related in Joshua 20). They receive, for the first time, the title ‘cities of refuge’ (see on Numbers 35:11). When a manslayer flees to one of these cities, ‘the congregation’ (see on Numbers 35:12) judges between him and the gô’çl, to discover whether the manslaughter had been deliberate or accidental. If it is proved to be accidental, the man must be taken back to the city of refuge, where he must remain until the death of the high priest. If he ventures out before that time, the gô’çl may kill him. If, on the other hand, he is found guilty of deliberate murder, the gô’çl must kill him.
Gray (Numb. p. 471) points out that this modifies the ancient custom in three respects: (1) Ancient custom made no distinction between accidental and deliberate manslaughter; the gô’çl must see that the loss of life suffered by one family is compensated for. (2) In ancient custom the loss could be compensated for by the death of any member of the manslayer’s family. Here the law tacitly insists that the murderer only is to forfeit his life. (3) The present law forbids the forfeited life of the murderer to be redeemed by a money payment. Such redemption was widely prevalent, but except in certain cases—not wilful murder—(cf. Exodus 21:29 f.) it seems to have been prohibited at an early period in Israel, though the present law contains the earliest explicit prohibition. At the same time, the law had not yet reached its final stage of development, in that it still bade the representative of the family, and not the representative of the whole community, perform the judicial act of killing the murderer.
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.11. ye shall appoint] Perhaps better ye shall select. The verb in this sense is not found elsewhere in the O.T.
cities of refuge] Perhaps cities of reception, a term which occurs only in this chapter, and in Joshua 20, 21. (P ), 1 Chronicles 6:57; 1 Chronicles 6:67. The word is used in Rabbinic Heb. of the collection or reception of rainwater.
unwittingly] lit. ‘in error.’ See Numbers 15:24 ff.
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.12. the avenger] Heb. gô’çl, the nearest representative of the family of the slain man. Perhaps (with LXX. ) we should read ‘the avenger of blood,’ as in Numbers 35:19; Numbers 35:21. On the gô’çl and his duties see n. on Numbers 35:8.
the congregation] It is not clearly stated that this means the congregation of the manslayer’s city; and the word ‘çdah elsewhere in P denotes the whole community of Israel. But in Numbers 35:25 (see note there) the words ‘restore him to his city of refuge’ imply that the ‘congregation’ have taken him to some other place for judgement, which would more probably be his own city than any other; and in Deuteronomy 19:12 the judges in the case of murder are ‘the elders of his city.’
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.14. In Joshua 20 the cities were selected as follows: on the E . of Jordan, Bezer in the south, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan in Bashan; on the W. of Jordan, Kiriath-arba (= Hebron) in the south of Judah, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kedesh in Naphtali. Thus the south, centre and north on both sides of the river were provided for.
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.15. The cities may be used by every class of the community, the true born Israelite, the sojourner (gêr) and the stranger (tôshâbh). See on Numbers 9:14. Nothing is here said of slaves; they had no legal rights, and it is therefore improbable that they could claim any asylum.
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.16–23. Specimen cases of murder and accidental homicide respectively; cf. Exodus 21:13 f.
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.17. a stone in the hand] i.e. a stone held in the hand; cf. Numbers 35:18, Ezekiel 39:9 (E.VV. ‘handstaves’).
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.
The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die;20. thrust him] i.e. pushed him, in such a way as to cause his death; e.g. over a cliff, or off the roof of a house.
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:24. according to these judgements] i.e. guided by the foregoing specimen cases. A similar type of rule, based on hypothetical cases, is seen in the ‘Judgements’ in Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 22:17.
24–28. The legal procedure in the case of accidental homicide.
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.25. shall restore him] It is not stated where the congregation had taken him for judgement, but it was presumably to his own city. It is not, however, impossible that ‘the congregation’ means, as elsewhere in P , the whole community of Israel, and that P tacitly assumed that Jerusalem would be the place of judgement.
the high priest] lit. ‘the great priest.’ The title is used in P of Aaron and his eldest descendants. Outside the Hexateuch, it first appears of Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:10), then of Hilkiah (2 Kings 22:4; 2 Kings 22:8); and after the exile, of Joshua (Haggai 1:1 &c., Zechariah 3:1; Zechariah 3:8) and Eliashib (Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:20; Nehemiah 13:28). The high priest was the head of the religious affairs of the Jewish church, and rose, in the popular estimation, to a higher importance than the civil governor who was appointed by a foreign power. So that ‘until the death of the high priest’ would have almost the same force that the words ‘until the death of the reigning sovereign’ would bear to-day.
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:
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.29. a statute of judgement] See on Numbers 27:11.
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.30. one witness shall not testify &c.] This re-enforces the law of Deuteronomy 17:6. In Deuteronomy 19:15 three, or at least two, witnesses are required to substantiate any charge (cf. Matthew 18:16).
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.31, 32. The murderer’s life may not be ransomed. And the man who has committed accidental homicide may not pay a ransom in lieu of detention in the city of refuge. These prohibitions emphasize the extreme value of human life.
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.34. See note on Numbers 35:1-4.