The Levitical Cities1 ▼ Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the Moabite plains by the Jordan near Jericho. ▼ He said: 2“Instruct the Israelites to give ▼
▼ The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive: “command…and they will give,” or “that they give.”the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites ▼
▼ Heb “they”; the referent (the Israelites) has been specified in the translation for clarity.will possess. You must also give the Levites grazing land around the towns. 3Thus they will have towns in which to live, and their grazing lands will be for their cattle, for their possessions, and for all their animals. 4The grazing lands around the towns that you will give to the Levites must extend to a distance of 500 yards ▼
▼ Heb “one thousand cubits.” The standard cubit in the OT is assumed by most authorities to be about eighteen inches (45 cm) in length, so this would be a distance of 1,500 feet or 500 yards (675 meters).from the town wall.
5 “You must measure ▼
▼ The verb is the Qal perfect of מָדַד (madad, “to measure”). With its vav (ו) consecutive it carries the same instructional force as the imperfect.from outside the wall of the town on the east 1,000 yards, ▼
▼ Heb “two thousand cubits” (also three more times in this verse). This would be a distance of 3,000 feet or 1,000 yards (1,350 meters).and on the south side 1,000 yards, and on the west side 1,000 yards, and on the north side 1,000 yards, with the town in the middle. ▼
▼ The precise nature of the layout described here is not altogether clear. V. 4 speaks of the distance from the wall as being 500 yards; v. 5, however, describes measurements of 1,000 yards. Various proposals have been made in order to harmonize vv. 4 and 5. P. J. Budd, Numbers (WBC), 376, makes the following suggestion: “It may be best to assume that the cubits of the Levitical pasture lands are cubit frontages of land – in other words on each side of the city there was a block of land with a frontage of two thousand cubits (v 5), and a depth of 1000 cubits (v 4).”This territory must belong to them as grazing land for the towns. 6Now from these towns that you will give to the Levites you must select six towns of refuge to which a person who has killed someone may flee. ▼
▼ The “manslayer” is the verb “to kill” in a participial form, providing the subject of the clause. The verb means “to kill”; it can mean accidental killing, premeditated killing, or capital punishment. The clause uses the infinitive to express purpose or result: “to flee there the manslayer,” means “so that the manslayer may flee there.”And you must give them forty-two other towns.
7 “So the total of the towns you will give the Levites is forty-eight. You must give these together with their grazing lands. 8The towns you will give must be from the possession of the Israelites. From the larger tribes you must give more; and from the smaller tribes fewer. Each must contribute some of its own towns to the Levites in proportion to the inheritance allocated to each.
The Cities of Refuge9 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 10“Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you cross over the Jordan River ▼
▼ The word “River” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.into the land of Canaan, 11you must then designate some towns as towns of refuge for you, to which a person who has killed someone unintentionally may flee. 12And they must stand as your towns of refuge from the avenger in order that the killer may not die until he has stood trial before the community. 13These towns that you must give shall be your six towns for refuge.
14 “You must give three towns on this side of the Jordan, and you must give three towns in the land of Canaan; they must be towns of refuge. 15These six towns will be places of refuge for the Israelites, and for the foreigner, and for the settler among them, so that anyone who kills any person accidentally may flee there.
16 “But if he hits someone with an iron tool so that he dies, ▼
▼ the verb is the preterite of “die.” The sentence has :“if…he strikes him and he dies.” The vav (ו) consecutive is showing the natural result of the blow.he is a murderer. The murderer must surely be put to death. 17If he strikes him by throwing a stone large enough that he could die, and he dies, he is a murderer. The murderer must surely be put to death. 18Or if he strikes him with a wooden hand weapon so that he could die, and he dies, he is a murderer. The murderer must surely be put to death. 19The avenger ▼
▼ The participle גֹּאֵל (go’el) is the one who protects the family by seeking vengeance for a crime. This is the same verb used for levirate marriages and other related customs.of blood himself must kill the murderer; when he meets him, he must kill him.
20 “But if he strikes him out of hatred or throws something at him intentionally ▼
▼ The Hebrew text is more vivid: “by lying in wait.”so that he dies, 21or with enmity he strikes him with his hand and he dies, the one who struck him must surely be put to death, for he is a murderer. The avenger of blood must kill the murderer when he meets him.
22 “But if he strikes him suddenly, without enmity, or throws anything at him unintentionally, 23or with any stone large enough that a man could die, without seeing him, and throws it at him, and he dies, even though he was not his enemy nor sought his harm, 24then the community must judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood according to these decisions. 25The community must deliver the slayer out of the hand of the avenger of blood, and the community must restore him to the town of refuge to which he fled, and he must live there ▼
▼ Heb “in it.”until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the consecrated oil. 26But if the slayer at any time goes outside the boundary of the town to which he had fled, 27and the avenger of blood finds him outside the borders of the town of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the slayer, he will not be guilty of blood, 28because the slayer ▼
▼ Heb “he.”should have stayed in his town of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest, the slayer may return to the land of his possessions. 29So these things must be a statutory ordinance ▼
▼ Heb “a statute of judgment” (so KJV).for you throughout your generations, in all the places where you live.
30 “Whoever kills any person, the murderer must be put to death by the testimony ▼
▼ Heb “ at the mouth of”; the metonymy stresses it is at their report.of witnesses; but one witness cannot ▼
▼ The verb should be given the nuance of imperfect of potentiality.testify against any person to cause him to be put to death. 31Moreover, you must not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death; he must surely be put to death. 32And you must not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a town of refuge, to allow him to return home and live on his own land before the death of the high priest. ▼
▼ Heb “the priest.” The Greek and the Syriac have “high priest.” The present translation, along with many English versions, uses “high priest” as a clarification.
33 “You must not pollute the land where you live, for blood defiles the land, and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed there, except by the blood of the person who shed it. 34Therefore do not defile the land that you will inhabit, in which I live, for I the Lord live among the Israelites.”
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