Numbers 35:14
Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.
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(14) Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan.—The meaning of the Hebrew word which is here rendered “on this side” is determined by the words “in the land of Canaan,” which describe the position of the three cities on the west of the Jordan. Otherwise the Hebrew word is applicable equally to the cities on the east and to those on the west of the Jordan. Moses himself appointed the three cities on the east of the Jordan—viz., Bezer, in the country of the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead, in the country of the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, in the country of the Manassites (Deuteronomy 4:43). The three cities on the west of the Jordan were not appointed until the land had been allotted amongst the nine tribes and a half (Joshua 20:7), when the original appointment of Moses in regard to the three cities on the east of the Jordan was confirmed (Joshua 20:8). It is supposed that the six cities were so selected that no one should be above thirty miles from the nearest city of refuge.

Numbers 35:14-16. On this side Jordan — Because that land was as long as Canaan, though not so broad; and besides, these might be convenient for many of them that lived in Canaan. If he smite him — Wittingly and wilfully, though not with premeditated malice. He shall be put to death — Yea, though he had fled into the city of refuge.

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. On this side Jordan; because that land was as long as Canaan, though not so broad, and besides these might be convenient for many of them that lived in Canaan.

Ye shall give three cites on this side Jordan,.... Which were Bezer in the wilderness, out of the tribe of Reuben; and Ramoth in Gilead, out of the tribe of Gad; and Golan in Bashan, out of the tribe of Manasseh, Joshua 20:8,

and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan: which were Kadesh in Galilee, in Mount Naphtali; Shechem in Mount Ephraim; and Kirjatharba, or Hebron, in the mountain of Judah, Joshua 20:7.

which shall be cities of refuge; the three on the other side Jordan, the Jews say, were separated by Moses, and the three in the land of Canaan by Joshua, but not one of them was a refuge until they were all separated (m): it may seem strange that there should be as many in the two tribes and a half on the other side Jordan, as in the nine tribes and a half in the land of Canaan; let it be observed, what the Jewish writers, say (n), Moses separated three cities beyond Jordan, and opposite them Joshua separated three in the land of Canaan; and they were like two rows in a vineyard, Hebron in Judea was opposite Bezer in the wilderness; Shechem in Mount Ephraim was opposite Ramoth in Gilead; Kadesh in Mount Naphtali was opposite Golan in Bashan; and the three were so disposed, that there was as much space from the south (of the land of Israel) to Hebron as from Hebron to Shechem; and as much from Hebron to Shechem as from Shechem to Kadesh; and as much from Shechem to Kadesh as from Kadesh to the north beyond Jordan; and it should be known that the land of the tribes beyond Jordan extended in length as far as the land of Canaan, and was equal to it, running along it; so that those in the land of Canaan could soon and easily get over Jordan to the cities of refuge there, if there was occasion; besides, there is a direction given, that if their coast should be enlarged, they were to add three cities more in the land of Canaan, Deuteronomy 19:8, hence the Jews have a notion, that in the days of the Messiah those three cities will be added (o); but the Messiah is come already, and is the antitype of them all.

(m) Misn. Maccot, c. 2. sect. 4. Maimon. Hilchot Rotzeach, c. 8. sect. 2. 3. & in Pirke, c. 4. sect. 2. & Jarchi in loc. (n) T. Bab. Maccot, fol. 9. 2.((o) Maimon. Rotzeach, c. 8. sect. 4.

Ye shall give three cities {e} on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.

(e) Among the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, De 4:41.

14. In Joshua 20 the cities were selected as follows: on the E . of Jordan, Bezer in the south, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan in Bashan; on the W. of Jordan, Kiriath-arba (= Hebron) in the south of Judah, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kedesh in Naphtali. Thus the south, centre and north on both sides of the river were provided for.

Verse 14. - Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan. According to Deuteronomy 4:41-43. Moses himself severed these three cities, Bezer of the Reubenites, Ramoth of the Gadites, and Golan of the Manassites. Those verses, however, seem to be an evident interpolation where they stand, and are hardly consistent with previous statements if taken literally. It is tolerably clear that the two tribes had only formed temporally settlements hitherto, and that their boundaries were not defined as yet; also that the Levitical cities (to which the cities of refuge were to belong) were not separated until after the conquest. It is likely that Deuteronomy 4:41-43 is a fragment, the real meaning el which is that Moses ordered the severance of three cities on that side Jordan as cities of refuge, for which purposes the three cities mentioned were afterwards selected. Numbers 35:14These towns were to serve for a refuge from the avenger of blood, that the manslayer might not die before he had taken his trial in the presence of the congregation. The number of cities was fixed at six, three on the other side of the Jordan, and three on this side in the land of Canaan, to which both the children of Israel, and also the foreigners and settlers who were dwelling among them, might flee. In Deuteronomy 19:2., Moses advises the congregation to prepare (הכין) the way to these cities, and to divide the territory of the land which Jehovah would give them into three parts (שׁלּשׁ), i.e., to set apart a free city in every third of the land, that every manslayer might flee thither, i.e., might be able to reach the free city without being detained by length of distance or badness of road, lest, as is added in Deuteronomy 19:6, the avenger of blood pursue the slayer while his heart is hot (יחם, imperf. Kal of חמם), and overtake him because the way is long, and slay him (נפשׁ הכּה, as in Genesis 37:21), whereas he was not worthy of death (i.e., there was no just ground for putting him to death), "because he had not done it out of hatred." The three cities of refuge on the other side were selected by Moses himself (Deuteronomy 4:41-43); the three in Canaan were not appointed till the land was distributed among the nine tribes and a half (Joshua 20:7). Levitical or priests' towns were selected for all six, not only because it was to the priests and Levites that they would first of all look for an administration of justice (Schultz on Deuteronomy 19:3), but also on the ground that these cities were the property of Jehovah, in a higher sense than the rest of the land, and for this reason answered the idea of cities of refuge, where the manslayer, when once received, was placed under the protection of divine grace, better than any other places possibly could.

The establishment of cities of refuge presupposed the custom and right of revenge. The custom itself goes back to the very earliest times of the human race (Genesis 4:15, Genesis 4:24; Genesis 27:45); it prevailed among the Israelites, as well as the other nations of antiquity, and still continues among the Arabs in unlimited force (cf. Niebuhr, Arab. pp. 32ff.; Burckhardt, Beduinen, 119, 251ff.). "Revenge of blood prevailed almost everywhere, so long as there was no national life generated, or it was still in the first stages of its development; and consequently the expiation of any personal violation of justice was left to private revenge, and more especially to family zeal" (Oehler in Herzog's B. Cycl., where the proofs may be seen). The warrant for this was the principle of retribution, the jus talionis, which lay at the foundation of the divine order of the world in general, and the Mosaic law in particular, and which was sanctioned by God, so far as murder was concerned, even in the time of Noah, by the command, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood," etc. (Genesis 9:5-6). This warrant, however, or rather obligation to avenge murder, was subordinated to the essential principle of the theocracy, under the Mosaic law. Whilst God Himself would avenge the blood that was shed, not only upon men, but upon animals also (Genesis 9:5), and commanded blood-revenge, He withdrew the execution of it from subjective caprice, and restricted it to cases of premeditated slaying or murder, by appointing cities of refuge, which were to protect the manslayer from the avenger, until he took his trial before the congregation. גּאל, redeemer, is "that particular relative whose special duty it was to restore the violated family integrity, who had to redeem not only landed property that had been alienated from the family (Leviticus 25:25.), or a member of the family that had fallen into slavery (Leviticus 25:47.), but also the blood that had been taken away from the family by murder" (Oehler). In the latter respect he was called הדּם גּאל, (Numbers 35:19, Numbers 35:21, Numbers 35:24.; Deuteronomy 19:6, Deuteronomy 19:12). From 2 Samuel 14:7, we may see that it was the duty of the whole family to take care that blood-revenge was carried out. The performance of the duty itself, however, was probably regulated by the closeness of the relationship, and corresponded to the duty of redeeming from bondage (Leviticus 25:49), and to the right of inheritance (Numbers 27:8.). What standing before the congregation was to consist of, is defined more fully in what follows (Numbers 35:24, Numbers 35:25). If we compare with this Joshua 20:4., the manslayer, who fled from the avenger of blood into a free city, was to stand before the gates of the city, and state his cause before the elders. They were then to receive him into the city, and give him a place that he might dwell among them, and were not to deliver him up to the avenger of blood till he had stood before the congregation for judgment. Consequently, if the slayer of a man presented himself with the request to be received, the elders of the free city had to make a provisional inquiry into his case, to decide whether they should grant him protection in the city; and then if the avenger of blood appeared, they were not to deliver up the person whom they had received, but to hand him over, on the charge of the avenger of blood, to the congregation to whom he belonged, or among whom the act had taken place, that they might investigate the case, and judge whether the deed itself was wilful or accidental.

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