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|This is the New King James text of the passages.|
Numbers 35-36 Listen
Let's find a place for the Levites to live (Numbers 35:1-8)
1 And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, saying:
2 “Command the children of Israel that they give the Levites cities to dwell in from the inheritance of their possession, and you shall also give the Levites common-land around the cities.
3 They shall have the cities to dwell in; and their common-land shall be for their cattle, for their herds, and for all their animals.
4 The common-land of the cities which you will give the Levites shall extend from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all around.
5 And you shall measure outside the city on the east side two thousand cubits, on the south side two thousand cubits, on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits. The city shall be in the middle. This shall belong to them as common-land for the cities.
6 ¶ “Now among the cities which you will give to the Levites you shall appoint six cities of refuge, to which a manslayer may flee. And to these you shall add forty-two cities.
7 So all the cities you will give to the Levites shall be forty-eight; these you shall give with their common-land.
8 And the cities which you will give shall be from the possession of the children of Israel; from the larger tribe you shall give many, from the smaller you shall give few. Each shall give some of its cities to the Levites, in proportion to the inheritance that each receives.”
Moses continues to go over the plans for moving into Canaan. The Levites are going to be city dwellers. Those cities will be provided by each of the remaining twelve tribes spread throughout the soon-to-be-acquired land along with the allotments already occupied by Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh on the east side of the Jordan River. And they'll be given land outside the walls of their cities for the purpose of grazing their livestock. Altogether there are to be 48 of these cities spread throughout the land. Larger tribes will provide more land for these cities than the smaller tribes. Six of the 48 cities (three east of the Jordan and three west) are to be designated cities of refuge. The cities that were later selected are Bezer, Ramoth-Gilead, and Golan on the east side of the Jordan River, and Hebron, Shechem, and Kedesh on the west side (Deuteronomy 4:43 (see notes); Joshua 20:7-8, see notes; Joshua 21:13,21,27,32,36,38, see notes). The specifications for circumstances whereby these cities can be used by fugitives is seen in verses 9-34 (see below).
In addition to the area inside the city walls for the Levites, a prescribed area for each of these 48 cities was to be designated outside the walls for the purpose of grazing their cattle. The difference between the designations of 1,000 cubits in verse 4 and the 2,000 cubits in verse 5 is illustrated in the diagram to the right. Both numbers are correct. So, here it is to be...just as Jacob had told Levi back in Genesis 49:7 (see notes), "I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel." Levi will not have their own tribal land award, but will be spread throughout Israel. The irony of the whole situation regarding the fulfillment of Jacob's blessing is that the Levites end up fulfilling that blessing by Jacob in a totally-unexpected fashion. They're a tribe of priests...prestigious priests!
What if they're on your trail for murder? (Numbers 35:9-34)
9 ¶ Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
10 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,
11 then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there.
12 They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment.
13 And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge.
14 You shall appoint three cities on this side of the Jordan, and three cities you shall appoint in the land of Canaan, which will be cities of refuge.
15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.
16 ¶ “But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
17 And if he strikes him with a stone in the hand, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
18 Or if he strikes him with a wooden hand weapon, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
19 The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.
20 If he pushes him out of hatred or, while lying in wait, hurls something at him so that he dies,
21 or in enmity he strikes him with his hand so that he dies, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
22 ¶ “However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait,
23 or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm,
24 then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments.
25 So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.
26 But if the manslayer at any time goes outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled,
27 and the avenger of blood finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood,
28 because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.
29 ¶ “And these things shall be a statute of judgment to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
30 Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty.
31 Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.
32 And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest.
33 So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.
34 Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel.’ ”
You better get out of town fast...and head for one of these cities of refuge (six of them, three on each side of the Jordan River, see above). These cities only worked if you committed an "I-didn't-mean-to" murder. You still had to be tried, but were supposed to be safe until the trial. Secular sources tell us that this is the way the law worked in that era among virtually all the nations. Blood relatives personally avenged the blood of their kin. We see provisions in verse 15 for the "stranger" as well as the Hebrew. There's the principle of avenging one's kin in verse 19, "The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death." That convention originated in Genesis 9:6 (see notes), "Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man." If you committed a premeditated murder, you're on your own. But what if it was an accident? Then head for one of these cities and ask for a trial (verses 22-25). At least you're safe until the trial. However, if they find you guilty of premeditated murder, the city provides no safety after that. If found innocent of premeditated murder, the city alone provides safety from one's avenger (verses 26-27). Leave the city and you're on your own. One caveat though - after the High Priest dies, that accidental manslayer can go back to his home, and the avenger no longer has a right to avenge the death of his relative. If I were the High Priest, I'd be a little cautious about accepting meals from these fugitives, though, based on verse 28.
An accused murderer could not be executed on the basis of just one eyewitness (verse 30). You will notice in this chapter the general guidelines for determining manslaughter instead of pre-meditated murder. Even under the Mosaic Law, determining guilt for capital murder has never been easy.
Israel's women: we want to keep our property! (Numbers 36)
1 Now the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the chief fathers of the children of Israel.
2 And they said: “The LORD commanded my lord Moses to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters.
3 Now if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and it will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken from the lot of our inheritance.
4 And when the Jubilee of the children of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”
5 ¶ Then Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the LORD, saying: “What the tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks is right.
6 This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, “Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe.’
7 So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.
8 And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father’s tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers.
9 Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.”
10 ¶ Just as the LORD commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad;
11 for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to the sons of their father’s brothers.
12 They were married into the families of the children of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s family.
13 ¶ These are the commandments and the judgments which the LORD commanded the children of Israel by the hand of Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho.
This is an addendum to an exception that was made back in Numbers 27:1-11 (see notes). At that time, the daughters of Zelophehad (of the tribe of Manasseh) had come to Moses about an inequity. Their father had died in the wilderness leaving no sons - just daughters. Moses decreed that their father's inheritance, when they occupied the land of Canaan, would go to them.
However, there was still a problem. The "chief fathers" want to protect the interests of the Tribe of Manasseh here against the possibility of losing territory assigned to members of that tribe. So, here are the stipulations Moses adds to his previous ruling on the issue. Ordinarily, if these women married the men of another of the Tribes of Israel, their property rights would transfer over to that tribe. You will recall that in the Jubilee year, all property reverted back to its original tribal families. (Click here to see the notes regarding the Jubilee year.) Well, you can see the problem. Property awarded to these women on behalf of their father would end up in the hands of another tribe altogether if they were to marry someone from another tribe. The solution: Cut down their field of eligible bachelors; Moses decrees that they will only be allowed to marry someone within their own tribe (Manasseh). Thus, in the year of Jubilee, the property remains with the original tribe. Problem solved!
The daughters of Zelophehad (of the tribe of Manasseh) receive their inheritance in Joshua 17:1-18 (see notes).