Reflections on Scripture

by Wayne Bandy

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Scripture Passage

      Numbers - Chapter 35 (Contemporary English Version)
    1. While the people of Israel were still camped in the lowlands of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, the LORD told Moses
    2. to say to them: When you receive your tribal lands, you must give towns and pastures to the Levi tribe.
    3. That way, the Levites will have towns to live in and pastures for their animals.
    4. The pasture around each of these towns must be in the shape of a square, with the town itself in the center. The pasture is to measure three thousand feet on each side, with fifteen hundred feet of land outside each of the town walls. This will be the Levites' pastureland.
    5. (SEE 35:4)
    6. Six of the towns you give them will be Safe Towns where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection. But you will also give the Levites forty-two other towns,
    7. so they will have a total of forty-eight towns with their surrounding pastures.
    8. Since the towns for the Levites must come from Israel's own tribal lands, the larger tribes will give more towns than the smaller ones.
    9. The LORD then told Moses
    10. to tell the people of Israel: After you have crossed the Jordan River and are settled in Canaan,
    11. choose Safe Towns, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection.
    12. If the victim's relatives think it was murder, they might try to take revenge. Anyone accused of murder can run to one of these Safe Towns for protection and not be killed before a trial is held.
    13. There are to be six of these Safe Towns,
    14. three on each side of the Jordan River.
    15. They will be places of protection for anyone who lives in Israel and accidentally kills someone.
    16. Suppose you hit someone with a piece of iron or a large stone or a dangerous wooden tool. If that person dies, then you are a murderer and must be put to death
    17. (SEE 35:16)
    18. (SEE 35:16)
    19. by one of the victim's relatives. He will take revenge for his relative's death as soon as he finds you.
    20. Or suppose you get angry and kill someone by pushing or hitting or by throwing something. You are a murderer and must be put to death by one of the victim's relatives.
    21. (SEE 35:20)
    22. But if you are not angry and accidentally kill someone in any of these ways, the townspeople must hold a trial and decide if you are guilty.
    23. (SEE 35:22)
    24. (SEE 35:22)
    25. If they decide that you are innocent, you will be protected from the victim's relative and sent to stay in one of the Safe Towns until the high priest dies.
    26. But if you ever leave the Safe Town
    27. and are killed by the victim's relative, he cannot be punished for killing you.
    28. You must stay inside the town until the high priest dies, only then can you go back home.
    29. The community of Israel must always obey these laws.
    30. Death is the penalty for murder. But no one accused of murder can be put to death unless there are at least two witnesses to the crime.
    31. You cannot give someone money to escape the death penalty, you must pay with your own life!
    32. And if you have been proven innocent of murder and are living in a Safe Town, you cannot pay to go back home, you must stay there until the high priest dies.
    33. I, the LORD, live among you people of Israel, so your land must be kept pure. But when a murder takes place, blood pollutes the land, and it becomes unclean. If that happens, the murderer must be put to death, so the land will be clean again. Keep murder out of Israel!
    34. (SEE 35:33)

Numbers - Chapter 35

Entered: January 23, 2007
Out of the allotment of land provided each tribe, certain apportionment?s were to be given for the common good. One of these was the provision of cities in which the Priests were to live. Four cities from each tribe were apportioned for the benefit of the priests, giving them a total of 48 cities. Along with each city there was to be pastureland surrounding it for their livestock. Out of the 48 cities, six were to be cities of refuge whose purpose was to protect those who had unintentionally killed someone. A person who intentionally killed someone was to be put to death, but only if there was testimony of more than one witness. On the other hand, those who killed someone unintentionally were protected in these cities of refuge. When a person was killed, their family had an avenger who was to avenge their death by killing the one responsible. To protect the unintentionally killer from this avenger, the cities of refuge were provided. However, these cities served somewhat as a prison. The killer could not leave the city without threat of being killed by the avenger. His blood was on is own hands should he leave the city and be killed.

Entered: July 31, 2012

God was giving instructions regarding the distribution of the land the Israelites were waiting to enter and possess. That is, they would possess it after they drove out the people living there. In the previous chapter God gave the boundaries of the land they were to possess. This chapter instructs them to allocate 48 cities, distributed throughout the territory of the twelve tribes, to be the inheritance of the Levites. They were not allotted land since their inheritance was the Lord. But they did need places to live and conduct their responsibilities in aiding the people in their worship of the Lord. Thus, each tribe was to provide a certain number of cities, based on the size of the tribe, along with a designated portion of land around each city to provide grazing land for their livestock. 

A further allocation of six cities was to be made as cities of refuge. There were to be three cities on either side of the Jordan. Cities of refuge allowed safety and imprisonment to those who killed a person unintentionally. God places high value on human life. The taking of another person's life, whether intentional or not, was not to go without repercussions. Today most societies, while intending, or at least stating the intention, to place value on human life, actually place less value on a life taken than on the life of the one who has taken it. God made it mandatory upon Israel that the life of one who kills another intentionally be taken. Failure to do so brought judgment on Israel. God told them that murder "defiles the land, and there can be no atonement for the land because of the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of the person who shed it." (35:33) 

This was the situation for one who intentionally killed another. However, the life of one who killed another unintentionally did not go unchanged. It, in fact, was forever changed. The cities of refuge offered them safety from the "avenger," who was a near relative of the victim. The avenger could kill the "manslayer" (the one who took the life unintentionally) without incurring guilt. Therefore, the manslayer could run to the safety of one of the cities of refuge to escape the avenger. Once he was tried by an assembly of the people, he was given a life sentence of living within the confines of the city of refuge if he was found not guilty of intentionally killing the person. However, if he was found guilty of murder, his life was to be taken by the avenger. Even though he might be found not guilty of intentional killing, he could never step outside the city of refuge without the risk of being killed by the avenger. The manslayer had one recourse to this life sentence. Should the High Priest die during his sentence, he was free to leave the city without fear of the avenger.

There is provided in this arrangement a picture of our freedom from the guilt of sin that is provided by the death of the Great High Priest who is Jesus.