Numbers 35:13
And of these cities which you shall give six cities shall you have for refuge.
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35:9-34 To show plainly the abhorrence of murder, and to provide the more effectually for the punishment of the murderer, the nearest relation of the deceased, under the title of avenger of blood, (or the redeemer of blood,) in notorious cases, might pursue, and execute vengeance. A distinction is made, not between sudden anger and malice aforethought, both which are the crime of murder; but between intentionally striking a man with any weapon likely to cause death, and an unintentional blow. In the latter case alone, the city of refuge afforded protection. Murder in all its forms, and under all disguises, pollutes a land. Alas! that so many murders, under the name of duels, prize-fights, &c. should pass unpunished. There were six cities of refuge; one or other might be reached in less than a day's journey from any part of the land. To these, man-slayers might flee for refuge, and be safe, till they had a fair trial. If acquitted from the charge, they were protected from the avenger of blood; yet they must continue within the bounds of the city till the death of the high priest. Thus we are reminded that the death of the great High Priest is the only means whereby sins are pardoned, and sinners set at liberty. These cities are plainly alluded to, both in the Old and New Testament, we cannot doubt the typical character of their appointment. Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope, saith the voice of mercy, Zec 9:12, alluding to the city of refuge. St. Paul describes the strong consolation of fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us, in a passage always applied to the gracious appointment of the cities of refuge, Heb 6:18. The rich mercies of salvation, through Christ, prefigured by these cities, demand our regard. 1. Did the ancient city rear its towers of safety on high? See Christ raised up on the cross; and is he not exalted at the right hand of his Father, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins? 2. Does not the highway of salvation, resemble the smooth and plain path to the city of refuge? Survey the path that leads to the Redeemer. Is there any stumbling-block to be found therein, except that which an evil heart of unbelief supplies for its own fall? 3. Waymarks were set up pointing to the city. And is it not the office of the ministers of the gospel to direct sinners to Him? 4. The gate of the city stood open night and day. Has not Christ declared, Him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out? 5. The city of refuge afforded support to every one who entered its walls. Those who have reached the refuge, may live by faith on Him whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed. 6. The city was a refuge for all. In the gospel there is no respect of persons. That soul lives not which deserves not Divine wrath; that soul lives not which may not in simple faith hope for salvation and life eternal, through the Son of God.The avenger - Hebrew גאל gā'al, a term of which the original import is uncertain. The very obscurity of its etymology testifies to the antiquity of the office which it denotes. That office rested on the principle of Genesis 9:6, "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." The unwritten code of the East conceded to the nearest kinsman of a murdered man the right of avenging the blood that had been shed. Such rude justice necessarily involved grave evils. It gave no opportunity to the person charged with crime of establishing is innocence; it recognized no distinction between murder, manslaughter, and accidental homicide; it perpetuated family blood-feuds, the avenger of blood being liable to be treated in his turn as a murderer by the kinsman of the man whom he had slain. These grievances could not be removed as long as there was no central government, but they might be mitigated; and to do this was the object of the institution in the text (compare Exodus 21:13).

Among the Arab tribes, who are under the control of no central authority, the practice of blood-revenge subsists in full force to the present day.

The congregation - i. e. local court, consisting of the elders of the city Joshua 20:4.

11. that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares—The practice of Goelism, that is, of the nearest relation of an individual who was killed being bound to demand satisfaction from the author of his death, existed from a very remote antiquity (Ge 4:14; 27:45). It seems to have been an established usage in the age of Moses; and although in a rude and imperfect state of society, it is a natural and intelligible principle of criminal jurisprudence, it is liable to many great abuses; the chief of the evils inseparable from it is that the kinsman, who is bound in duty and honor to execute justice, will often be precipitate—little disposed, in the heat of passion or under the impulse of revenge, to examine into the circumstances of the case, to discriminate between the premeditated purpose of the assassin and the misfortune of the unintentional homicide. Moreover, it had a tendency, not only to foster a vindictive spirit, but in case of the Goel being unsuccessful in finding his victim, to transmit animosities and feuds against his descendants from one generation to another. This is exemplified among the Arabs in the present day. Should an Arab of one tribe happen to kill one of another tribe, there is "blood" between the tribes, and the stain can only be wiped out by the death of some individual of the tribe with which the offense originated. Sometimes the penalty is commuted by the payment of a stipulated number of sheep or camels. But such an equivalent, though offered, is as often refused, and blood has to be repaid only by blood. This practice of Goelism obtained among the Hebrews to such an extent that it was not perhaps expedient to abolish it; and Moses, while sanctioning its continuance, was directed, by divine authority, to make some special regulations, which tended both to prevent the unhappy consequences of sudden and personal vengeance, and, at the same time, to afford an accused person time and means of proving his innocence. This was the humane and equitable end contemplated in the institution of cities of refuge. There were to be six of these legalized asyla, three on the east of Jordan, both because the territory there was equal in length, though not in breadth, to Canaan, and because it might be more convenient for some to take refuge across the border. They were appointed for the benefit, not of the native Israelites only, but of all resident strangers. No text from Poole on this verse. And of these cities which ye shall give,.... Of the forty eight cities they were to give to the Levites, Numbers 35:7,

six cities shall ye have for refuge; which, I think, makes it clear, that not all the forty eight cities were for refuge, only six of them.

And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge.
Verse 13. - Six cities. See on Deuteronomy 19:8, 9, where three more are apparently ordered to be set aside upon a certain contingency: Of these cities which were given up to the Levites, six were to serve as cities of refuge (see at Numbers 35:12) for manslayers, and in addition to these (עליהם, over upon them) the Israelites were to give of their possessions forty-two others, that is to say, forty-eight in all; and they were to do this, giving much from every tribe that had much, and little from the one which had little (Numbers 26:54). With the accusatives הערים את and ערי שׁשׁ עת (Numbers 35:6), the writer has already in his mind the verbs תּרבּוּ and תּמעיטוּ of Numbers 35:8, where he takes up the object again in the word והערים. According to Joshua 21, the Levites received nine cities in the territory of Judah and Simeon, four in the territory of each of the other tribes, with the exception of Naphtali, in which there were only three, that is to say, ten in the land to the east of the Jordan, and thirty-eight in Canaan proper, of which the thirteen given up by Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin were assigned to the families of the priests, and the other thirty-five to the three Levitical families. This distribution of the Levites among all the tribes - by which the curse of division and dispersion in Israel, which had been pronounced upon Levi in Jacob's blessing (Genesis 49:7), was changed into a blessing both for the Levites themselves and also for all Israel - was in perfect accordance with the election and destination of this tribe. Called out of the whole nation to be the peculiar possession of Jehovah, to watch over His covenant, and teach Israel His rights and His law (Deuteronomy 33:9-10; Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 31:9-13), the Levites were to form and set forth among all the tribes the ἐκλογή of the nation of Jehovah's possession, and by their walk as well as by their calling to remind the Israelites continually of their own divine calling; to foster and preserve the law and testimony of the Lord in Israel, and to awaken and spread the fear of God and piety among all the tribes. Whilst their distribution among all the tribes corresponded to this appointment, the fact that they were not scattered in all the towns and villages of the other tribes, but were congregated together in separate towns among the different tribes, preserved them from the disadvantages of standing alone, and defended them from the danger of moral and spiritual declension. Lastly, in the number forty-eight, the quadrupling of the number of the tribes (twelve) is unmistakeable. Now, as the number four is the seal of the kingdom of God in the world, the idea of the kingdom of God is also represented in the four times twelve towns (cf. Bhr, Symbolik, ii. pp. 50, 51).
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