Joshua 20:3
That the slayer that kills any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Joshua 20:3. Unwittingly — Hebrew, Through ignorance, or error, or mistake, and without knowledge. The same thing is twice repeated, to cut off all expectations that wilful murderers might have of protection here. God having declared that such should be taken even from his altar, that they might be killed. It is strange that any Christians should make their sanctuaries give protection to such persons whom God hath so expressly excepted from it! Avenger — The nearest kinsman, who had right or power to demand or take vengeance for the slaughter.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.Nothing is said of any express command of God respecting the inheritance of Joshua. But as such special portion appears to have been promised to Caleb at the time when he and Joshua alone out of the twelve spies remained faithful Joshua 14:6-9, it is probable that a like promise was made to Joshua. The name of the place is also written Timnath-heres Judges 2:9, by a transposition of the letters. The rabbinical explanation that the name Timnath-heres (i. e. "portion of the sun") was given because a representation of the sun was affixed to the tomb in memory of Joshua's command to the sun to stand still, appears to be an afterthought. The name Timnath-serah ("portion that remains") was perhaps conferred on the spot in consequence of its being allotted to Joshua, the last allotment made in the whole distribution of his conquests. The site has been conjectured to be "Tibneh," a village about five miles north-west of Lydda (or, by Conder, Kerr Hares, nine miles south of Nablous). CHAPTER 20

Jos 20:1-6. The Lord Commands the Cities of Refuge.

1-3. The Lord spake unto Joshua … Appoint out for you cities of refuge—(See Nu 35:9-28; De 19:1-13). The command here recorded was given on their going to occupy their allotted settlements. The sanctuaries were not temples or altars, as in other countries, but inhabited cities; and the design was not to screen criminals, but only to afford the homicide protection from the vengeance of the deceased's relatives until it should have been ascertained whether the death had resulted from accident and momentary passion, or from premeditated malice. The institution of the cities of refuge, together with the rules prescribed for the guidance of those who sought an asylum within their walls, was an important provision, tending to secure the ends of justice as well as of mercy.

Unawares and unwittingly, Heb. through ignorance, or error, or mistake, and without knowledge; the same thing twice repeated, to cut off all the claims and expectations that wilful murderers might have of protection here; and God having declared that such should be taken even from his altar, that they might be killed, Exodus 21:14; and accordingly Joab was by Solomon’s order killed even at the altar, 1 Kings 2:28-31,34. It is the more strange and impudent that any Christians should make their sanctuaries give protection to such persons whom God hath so expressly excepted from it, which the papists do; and their doctors are not ashamed to defend it upon frivolous reasons.

The avenger of blood; the kinsman, who had right or power to demand or take vengeance of the slaughter. 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.

That the slayer that killeth any person {a} unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.

(a) At unawares and bearing him no grudge.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. That the slayer that killeth any person unawares] In accordance with these regulations a wide distinction was made between the man who committed wilful murder, and one who slew another by mistake, in ignorance, and unintentionally. (a) In the former case the guilty criminal met with no compassion from the Mosaic Code. He was regarded as accursed. The horns of the altar were to be no refuge for him. He was to be dragged from them by force to suffer his doom, nor could rank or wealth exempt him from it (Numbers 35:31-32). (b) In the latter case, where life had been taken unawares, a more merciful system of legislation intervened. In contradistinction to the customs of the Greeks and Romans and even of the Middle Ages, which made places of sanctuary available to criminals of every kind, the Jewish Lawgiver reserved them for unintentional acts of murder, and for these alone. The distinguishing marks of such acts are clearly laid down in Numbers 35:25-34; Deuteronomy 19:4-6.

from the avenger of blood] “that he moue ascaap the wrath of the neiзboure, that is wreker of the blood,” Wyclif. The involuntary shedder of blood was permitted to take flight to a city of refuge.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. Besides this inheritance, the Danites of Zorea and Eshtaol went, after Joshua's death, and conquered the town of Leshem or Laish, on the northern boundary of Canaan, and gave it the name of Dan, as the territory which was allotted to them under Joshua was too small for them, on account of their inability to drive out the Amorites from several of their towns (Judges 1:34-35; Judges 18:2). For further particulars concerning this conquest, see Judges 18. Leshem or Laish (Judges 18:7, Judges 18:27), i.e., Dan, which the Onom. describes as viculus quarto a Paneade milliario euntibus Tyrum, was the present Tell el Kadi, or el Leddan, the central source of the Jordan, to the west of Banjas, a place with ancient ruins (see Rob. iii. p. 351; Bibl. Res. pp. 390, 393). It was there that Jeroboam set up the golden calves (1 Kings 12:29-30, etc.); and it is frequently mentioned as the northernmost city of the Israelites, in contrast with Beersheba, which was in the extreme south of the land (Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Samuel 3:10 : see also Ritter, Erdk. xvi. pp. 207ff.).
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