Deuteronomy 4:41
Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sun rise;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
THE APPOINTMENT OF THREE CITIES OF REFUGE.

(41) Then Moses severed.—The word “then” appears to be a note of time. It would seem that the appointment of the three cities of refuge on the eastern side of Jordan actually followed this discourse.

On this side Jordan.—Heb., b’ ’êber hay-yardên. The expression is here defined by the words that follow, “toward the sun-rising,” and it need not, therefore, be taken to fix the writer’s point of view. By itself, the expression would naturally mean, on the other side of Jordan.

(43) Bezer is as yet unidentified.

Ramoth in Gilead, though famous in the history of Israel as the scene of Ahab’s death and of the anointing of Jehu (1 Kings 21 and 2 Kings 9), is also as yet unknown.

Golan has given a name to the district of Gaulonitis. But it is as yet also unknown. We may hope that when the survey of Eastern Palestine is concluded, these ancient sites will be recovered.

4:41-49 Here is the introduction to another discourse, or sermon, Moses preached to Israel, which we have in the following chapters. He sets the law before them, as the rule they were to work by, the way they were to walk in. He sets it before them, as the glass in which they were to see their natural face, that, looking into this perfect law of liberty, they might continue therein. These are the laws, given when Israel was newly come out of Egypt; and they were now repeated. Moses gave these laws in charge, while they encamped over against Beth-peor, an idol place of the Moabites. Their present triumphs were a powerful argument for obedience. And we should understand our own situation as sinners, and the nature of that gracious covenant to which we are invited. Therein greater things are shown to us than ever Israel saw from mount Sinai; greater mercies are given to us than they experienced in the wilderness, or in Canaan. One speaks to us, who is of infinitely greater dignity than Moses; who bare our sins upon the cross; and pleads with us by His dying love.These verses are inserted between two distinct and complete discourses for the reason to which they themselves call attention ("Then Moses severed three cities," etc.); i. e., the fact narrated took place historically after Moses spoke the one discourse and before he delivered the other. In thus severing the three cities of refuge Moses carried out a previous command of God (see the marginal references); and so followed up his exhortations to obedience by setting a punctual example of it, as far as opportunity was given him.41-43. Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan—(See on [114]Jos 20:7). As God had commanded him Numbers 35:6,14 Then Moses severed three cities,.... To be cities of refuge, according to the command of God, Numbers 35:14 this he did when he had conquered the two kingdoms of the Amorites, that God had given them for an inheritance to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, Deuteronomy 4:38 though Jarchi says, and so other Jewish writers, that persons were not received into them until the three cities appointed in the land of Canaan were separated for the like use; See Gill on Numbers 35:14 and these were:

on this side Jordan, toward the rising sun; on that side of the river on which the plains of Moab lay, and the kingdoms of the Amorites, and to the east of Jordan: so Jarchi remarks,"on that side which is on the east of Jordan;''see Joshua 20:8.

Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
41. Then Moses separated] Rather, set apart. In Deuteronomy 10:8 the verb is used of God’s solemn separation of Levi to bear the ark, etc., and in Deuteronomy 29:21 (20) of the idolater to evil. The form of the verb here has the force of began, or proceeded, to set apart.

three cities] On the number, and its contradiction of Deuteronomy 19:1 ff., see above, note introductory to this fragment.

beyond Jordan] As in Deuteronomy 1:1 the writer writes in W. Palestine. This is put past doubt by the additional clause, toward the sunrising, cf. Deuteronomy 4:47. P omits sun and writes towards the rising, Deuteronomy 4:49 and Numbers 32:19; Numbers 34:15.

41–43. Historical Note

Then, i.e. at the time of the preceding discourse in Moab, Moses set apart three cities E. of Jordan as asylums for men, who unwittingly and without previous hatred had slain their fellows: Beṣer, on the Plateau, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan in Bashan.—The style of this fragment is deuteronomic (see notes below). But had it belonged to the previous historical discourse it would surely have appeared somewhere in Deuteronomy 3:18-29 (before the subsequent exhortations); and have been expressed in the 1st instead of the 3rd pers. sing. Nor is it alluded to, nor presupposed by, D’s law on the Cities of Refuge, Deuteronomy 19:1 ff.; indeed, it cannot have been known to the author of this law which directs Israel to set apart three cities in the midst of the land which God is going to give them, i.e. the whole land both E. and W. of Jordan1[116] (with the proviso that if God shall enlarge the land they may add three more). The fragment cannot have belonged, therefore, to the original D. P, in Numbers 35:9-34, records a law, as given to Moses in Moab, on the same subject; but states it (1) far mole elaborately, (2) in a different vocabulary, and (3) with some differences of substance (see for details, Intr. to Pent. 121 f.). The cities are to be six, three on either side Jordan, and to be appointed after the people have passed over Jordan. In another P passage, Joshua 20:1 f., this is said (again with some difference of terms) to have been done by Joshua; and the three E. cities named by him are the same as here. From all these data the most reasonable inference is that this fragment is the work of a deuteronomic editor either employing a tradition unknown to P; or (more probably) with P before him1[117] and making from it the natural inference that Moses had himself named the three cities E. of Jordan.—If this be correct the fragment is an interesting illustration of the tendency (in many nations) to develop historical narrative out of law. In the earlier legislation (E, Exodus 21:12-14; see Driver’s Ex. 215 f.) asylum is granted at every altar to him who has slain a man accidentally (but not to the wilful murderer). When all the altars were abolished by the deuteronomic legislation, except that of the Single Sanctuary, it became necessary to sanction asyla at a certain number of other places. This is done by D (Deuteronomy 19:1 ff.). The places were chosen partly (as is evident from the towns named W. of Jordan, Ḳedesh, Shechem, and Ḥebron) because they contained ancient sanctuaries and partly because of their convenience (evident equally from the towns chosen E. and W. of Jordan). From this arose the tradition2[118] that the selection had been made in the earliest times; but one form of the tradition assigns the naming of the three towns E. of Jordan to Moses; the other assigns the naming of all six to Joshua.—Why the deuteronomic editor should have put the former just here it is impossible to determine.

[116] This is the only fair interpretation; if the law Deuteronomy 19:1 ff. had meant three cities in W. Palestine in addition to the three already set apart by Moses on the E. of Jordan, it would surely have alluded to the latter. The law was obviously made in consequence of the institution of the single sanctuary and without regard to any historical tradition of what Moses or Joshua had done.

[117] The editor who compiled P with JED.

[118] The above data shew that the tradition (1) could not have been earlier than the deuteronomic legislation, for every altar before that provided an asylum; and (2) that it was later than the deuteronomic legislation.Verses 41-43. - APPOINTMENT OF THREE CITIES OF REFUGE BEYOND JORDAN. A short historical notice is here inserted, probably because it was during the interval between the first and second addresses of Moses that he carried into effect the Divine command to appoint cities of refuge for the manslayer (Numbers 35:9, etc.; cf. Exodus 21:13). This notice, therefore, is here in its proper place in the order of the narrative. That Moses should, just at this stage, have made this appointment was fitting and proper, seeing he had been urging on the people obedience to the Divine statutes and commandments, and had represented their conquest of the territory of Sihon and Og as an earnest of their ultimate possession of the whole land of the Amorites. By appointing these cities, Moses gave an example of obedience to God's injunction, and, at the same time, not only asserted on the part of Israel a right of proprietorship in this trans-Jordanic territory, but assumed as certain that, on the ether side of Jordan also, the same right of proprietorship should be possessed and exercised by Israel in the fulfilling of the whole law concerning cities of refuge (cf. Deuteronomy 19:1, etc.). That this section belongs properly to Numbers 35, 36, and has been interpolated here by some later hand, is a pure assumption, for which there is no ground. Verse 41. - On this side Jordan; beyond Jordan, more expressly defined as toward the sun rising, viz. on the east of that river. Israel was made to see all this, that it might know that Jehovah was God (האלהים, the God, to whom the name of elohim rightfully belonged), and there was none else beside Him (cf. Deuteronomy 4:39, Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:5-6).
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