Numbers 35


The Israelites are commanded to give the Levites, out of their

inheritances, cities and their suburbs for themselves and for

their cattle, goods, &c., 1-3.

The suburbs to be 3,000 cubits round about from the wall of the

city, 4, 5.

The cities to be forty-two, to which six cities of refuge should

be added, in all forty-eight cities, 6, 7.

Each tribe shall give of these cities in proportion to its

possessions, 8.

These cities to be appointed for the person who might slay his

neighbour unawares, 9-12.

Of these six cities there shall be three on each side Jordan,

13, 14.

The cities to be places of refuge for all who kill a person

unawares, whether they be Israelites, strangers, or sojourners,


Cases of murder to which the benefit of the cities of refuge

shall not extend, 16-21.

Cases of manslaughter to which the benefits of the cities of

refuge shall extend, 22, 23.

How the congregation shall act between the manslayer and the

avenger of blood, 24, 25.

The manslayer shall abide in the city of refuge till the death

of the high priest; he shall then return to the land of his

possession, 26-28.

Two witnesses must attest a murder before a murderer can be put

to death, 29, 30.

Every murderer to be put to death, 31.

The manslayer is not to be permitted to come to the land of his

inheritance till the death of the high priest, 32.

The land must not be polluted with blood, for the Lord dwells

in it, 33, 34.


Verse 4. And the suburbs of the cities-shall reach from the

wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about.

Verse 5. And ye shall measure from without the city-two

thousand cubits, &c.] Commentators have been much puzzled with

the accounts in these two verses. In Nu 35:4 the measure is said

to be 1,000 cubits from the wall; in Nu 35:5 the measure is said

to be 2,000 from without the city. It is likely these two

measures mean the same thing; at least so it was understood by the

Septuagint and Coptic, who have δισχιλιουςπηχεις, 2,000 cubits,

in the fourth, as well as in the fifth verse; but this reading of

the Septuagint and Coptic is not acknowledged by any other of the

ancient versions, nor by any of the MSS. collated by Kennicott and

De Rossi. We must seek therefore for some other method of

reconciling this apparently contradictory account. Sundry modes

have been proposed by commentators, which appear to me, in

general, to require full as much explanation as the text itself.

Maimonides is the only one intelligible on the subject. "The

suburbs," says he, "of the cities are expressed in the law to be

3,000 cubits on every side from the wall of the city and outwards.

The first thousand cubits are the suburbs, and the 2,000, which

they measured without the suburbs, were for fields and vineyards."

The whole, therefore, of the city, suburbs, fields, and vineyards,

may be represented by the following diagram:-


� �

� Fields and vineyards �

� 2000 cubits �

� �

� �������������������������ͻ �

� � Suburbs � �

� � 1000 cubits � �

� Fields � ���������ͻ � Fields �

� and �Suburbs� �Suburbs� and �

� Vineyards � 1000 � CITY � 1000 � Vineyards �

� 2000 �cubits � �cubits � 2000 �

� cubits � ���������ͼ � cubits �

� � Suburbs � �

� � 1000 cubits � �

� �������������������������ͼ �

� �

� Fields and vineyards �

� 2000 cubits �

� �


Verse 11. Ye shall appoint-cities of refuge] The cities of

refuge among the Israelites were widely different from the asyla

among the Greeks and Romans, as also from the privileged altars

among the Roman Catholics. Those among the Hebrews were for the

protection of such only as had slain a person involuntarily. The

temples and altars among the latter often served for the

protection of the most profligate characters. Cities of refuge

among the Hebrews were necessary, because the old patriarchal law

still remained in force, viz., that the nearest akin had a right

to avenge the death of his relation by slaying the murderer; for

the original law enacted that whosoever shed man's blood, by man

should his blood be shed, Ge 9:6, and none was judged so proper

to execute this law as the man who was nearest akin to the

deceased. As many rash executions of this law might take place,

from the very nature of the thing, it was deemed necessary to

qualify its claims, and prevent injustice; and the cities of

refuge were judged proper for this purpose. Nor do we ever read

that they were ever found inefficient, or that they were ever


Verse 12. Until he stand before the congregation in

judgment.] So one of these cities was not a perpetual asylum; It

was only a pro tempore refuge, till the case could be fairly

examined by the magistrates in the presence of the people, or the

elders their representatives; and this was done in the city or

place where he had done the murder, Jos 20:4, 6. If he was found

worthy of death, they delivered him to the avenger that he might

be slain, De 19:12; if not, they sent him back to the city of

refuge, where he remained till the death of the high priest,

Nu 35:25. Before the cities of refuge were appointed, the

altar appears to have been a sanctuary for those who had killed

a person unwittingly; see on Ex 21:13, 14.

Verse 19. The revenger of blood] goel haddam, the

redeemer of blood; the next in blood to him who was slain. See on

the preceding verse.

Verse 30. But one witness shall not testify against any] This

was a just and necessary provision. One may be mistaken, or so

violently prejudiced as to impose even on his own judgment, or so

wicked as to endeavour through malice to compass the life of his

neighbour: but it is not likely that two or more should be of this

kind; and even were they, their separate examination would lead to

a discovery of the truth, and to their conviction.

Verse 31. Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a

murderer] No atonement could be made for him, nor any

commutation, so as to save him from death. All the laws of the

civilized world have either adjudged the murderer to death, or to

a punishment equivalent to it; such as perpetual imprisonment, in

a dungeon, under ground, on a stone floor, without light, and to

be fed on a small portion of bread and water. In such

circumstances a man could live but a short time; and though it is

not called the punishment of death, yet, from its inevitable

consequences, it only differed from it by being a little longer

respite than was usual where the punishment of death was awarded.

See Clarke on Ge 9:6.

Verse 32. Until the death of the priest.] Probably intended to

typify, that no sinner can be delivered from his banishment from

God, or recover his forfeited inheritance, till Jesus Christ, the

great high priest, had died for his offences, and risen again for

his justification.

Verse 33. For blood it defileth the land] The very land was

considered as guilty till the blood of the murderer was shed in

it. No wonder God is so particularly strict in his laws against

murderers, 1. Because he is the author of life, and none have any

right to dispose of it but himself. 2. Because life is the time

to prepare for the eternal world, and on it the salvation of the

soul accordingly depends; therefore it is of infinite consequence

to the man that his life be lengthened out to the utmost limits

assigned by Divine Providence. As he who takes a man's life away

before his time may be the murderer of his soul as well as of his

body, the severest laws should be enacted against this, both to

punish and prevent the crime.

THE Mosaic cities of refuge have in general been considered, not

merely as civil institutions, but as types or representations of

infinitely better things; and in this light St. Paul seems to have

considered them and the altar of God, which was a place of general

refuge, as it is pretty evident that he had them in view when

writing the following words: "God, willing more abundantly to show

unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel,

confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, (his oath

and promise,) in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might

have a strong consolation who have FLED for REFUGE to lay HOLD

upon the HOPE set before us," Heb 6:17, 18. Independently of

this, it was a very wise political institute; and while the

patriarchal law on this point continued in force, this law had a

direct tendency to cool and moderate the spirit of revenge, to

secure the proper accomplishment of the ends of justice, and to

make way for every claim of mercy and equity. But this is not

peculiar to the ordinance of the cities of refuge; every

institution of God is distinguished in the same way, having his

own glory, in the present and eternal welfare of man, immediately

in view.

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