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Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical Lange's Commentary
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 35". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ lcc/ numbers-35.html. 1857-84.
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 35". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/
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Regulations for the Levitical Cities and the Cities of Refuge
1And the Lord spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, 2Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites, of the inheritance of their possession, cities to dwell in; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them. 3And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts. 4And the suburbs of the cities, which ye shall give unto the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about. 5And ye shall measure from without the city on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits; and the city shall be in the midst: this shall be to them the suburbs of the cities. 6And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither: and 1to them ye shall 7add forty and two cities. So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities: them shall ye give with their suburbs. 8And the cities which ye shall give shall be of the possession of the children of Israel: from them that have many ye shall give many; but from them that have few ye shall give few: every one shall give of his cities unto the Levites according to his inheritance which 2he inheriteth.
9And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 10Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at 3unawares. 12And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the 13congregation in judgment. And of these cities which ye shall give, six cities shall ye have for refuge. 14Ye 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. 15These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them; that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither. 16And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. 17And if he smite him with throwing a 4stone wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall 18surely be put to death. Or if he smite him with a hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. 19The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him. 20But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die; 21Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him. 22But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait, 23Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm; 24Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments: 25And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil. 26But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; 27And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer: he shall not be guilty of 5blood: 28Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest 29the slayer shall return into the land of his possession. So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 30Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. 31Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which Isaiah 6:0 guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. 32And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. 33So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the 7land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. 34Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[Numbers 35:3. לִרְכֻשָׁם not the ordinary term for sheep and goats or small cattle. Here it designates that which they had acquired—their movable or driven possessions—and so flocks as driven together.—A. G.]
[Numbers 35:4. מְגְרָשׁ from גָרַשׁ to drive—place to which cattle were driven.—A. G.]
[Numbers 35:5. Omit shall be.]
[Numbers 35:6. The preposition is not in the original. Render with Lange: And the cities which ye shall give to the Levites are the six—supply the verb; or better, as to the cities which ye shall give, etc. Six cities shall be for, etc.—A. G.]
[Numbers 35:11. De Wette: Convenient cities—those easy, ready of access, and so fit.]
[Numbers 35:11. בּשְׁגָגָה. By his error or wandering; by inadvertence.—A. G.]
[Numbers 35:12. מגאל from גָאַל to redeem, buy back. Connected with דָּם redeemer of blood, avenger, and so the redeemer of blood was the next of kin, a kinsman.—A. G.]
[Numbers 35:12. הָּעֵרָח not the word ordinarily used for the congregation, but the local court of the city to which he fled. See Numbers 35:24-25.—A. G.]
[Numbers 35:19. In his lighting upon him, wherever he meets him; the word includes even an undesigned meeting.—A. G.]
[Numbers 35:23. Who willed him no evil.—Luther.]
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Comp. Joshua 21:0. After the directions for the purifying of the holy land from all heathen defilement, and its division among the people of Jehovah in a just and equitable manner, a positive consecration is now imparted to it, by the distribution of the Levitical cities throughout the entire land. This gleam of Levitical sanctity over the land, which takes the place of the dark or frivolous image-worship, becomes broader and brighter through the asylums for fugitives, who were pursued for the unintentional shedding of blood; places of refuge which were located among the Levitical cities, and were thus passed under the protection of the Levites, but by the law under which they were appointed, were not only bulwarks of justice and its enforcement, but also of grace and its dispensation, and thus glorified the holy land.
This mingling of the Levitical cities with the places of refuge for those pursued by the revenger of blood, was in the first place peculiarly significant. It expresses the inward connection of righteousness and grace, and also the sharp distinction between the unintentional shedding of blood by the parricide, and the intentional and criminal shedding of blood by the murderer, between expiation by the loss of liberty and expiation by death, and thus the development from the natural thirst for vengeance, to the sacred law of justice and right. The reconciliation between justice and grace gives to this institution the morning rays of the New Testament principles and relations. Its natural basis is the relation between the blood revenger and the right of asylum among the ancients, its ecclesiastical form the refuge to the sanctuary and altars of the Church in the Middle Ages, its Christian development the idea of pardon consistent with right, a legal pardon, its caricature the radical excuse of guilt and the liberalistic dilution of the rights of the slain, or the law of murder.
1. The Levitical cities, Numbers 35:1-5. The Levites receive no inheritance, no lot in Canaan; their lot and inheritance is Jehovah. But the tribes shall give them cities out of their inheritance, and in addition pasturage for their cattle; the cities only in a conditional sense, i. e., for dwellings in connection with those who were not Levites, but with their own houses and with special rights. The pastures, lay around the cities, for their cattle and their possession (their flocks and herds), and for all their animals generally.8 For an inalienable possession, Leviticus 25:34. The clear conception and location of the pastures which were to be given to the Levites in the environs of their cities is very difficult. We are not inclined, however, to accept the designation which Keil, after (Michaelis and Knobel) adopts and favors. In the first place, it is not probable that the cities should all be four-square; and then it is hardly supposable that the cities should all be enclosed by pastures exclusively Levite, and indeed an environ of one by two thousand cubits, so that no pasture land should have been left for the other inhabitants of the cities, unless they looked for it, outside of the Levite pastures. Then further, it would barely have been possible to lay out pastures one thousand cubits broad on every side of every city. The description is entirely clear so far, that the Levite pastures should extend one thousand cubits from the city into the fields around; then two thousand cubits, from the outer border of the one thousand (מחוצ) on every side of the city should be set apart for Levite pastures, thus in all eight thousand cubits. There was still room for the gardens near the city walls, and between the measured Levite pastures there was room also for the pastures of the other dwellers in the city. The eight thousand cubits appear to form a plus or minus, an indefinite quantity, to be determined in concrete cases according to the demands and number of their cattle and flocks. Thus the Levites were scattered in Israel according to the prediction—or curse—of Jacob (Genesis 49:0). But the dispersion, which in another form hung as a doom over the Simeonites, became now, not only a blessing to the Levites, whom the whole broad country had to support, viz., by the payment of the tithes that could not be carried far, but also for Israel, since the Levites, as teachers of the law, consecrated because of the name of Jehovah, were to be the salt of the land and people. But still they should not, as Keil rightly observes, lose their power, by too great a disintegration and dispersion through the whole land, or become burdensome to individual tribes by too great concentration. [“From without. The demarcation here intended would run parallel to the wall of the city outside of which it was made. The object was apparently to secure that the preceding provision should be fairly and fully carried out. The suburb would thus extend for a thousand cubits, or nearly one-third of a mile from the wall. There might be danger, especially with the irregular forms which the cities might assume, and with the physical obstacles presented by the surrounding ground, that neighboring proprietors would deem the suburb sufficient, if it measured a thousand cubits in some directions, not in others, in which case it might occasionally be restricted to a very small area. To guard against this, it was ordained that the suburb should alike on north, south, east and west, present at a thousand cubits’ distance from the wall, a front not less than two thousand cubits in length.” Bib. Com. This is better than Keil’s view (which implies that every Levitical city lay four-square, within the area enclosed by the four sides of a square), because it seems flexible. The two things which seem essential, are to retain the precision and definiteness of the description of the text, and yet allow for the diversity in shape and location which was sure to exist. It is very generally agreed that the first suburb was a thousand cubits broad all round the city in whatever shape its walls may have been constructed. If we regard the enumeration of the Bides north, south, east and west as used to indicate all directions, and not merely four sides, we may conceive of the outer and broader suburb—two thousand cubits deep—conformed in its shape to the walls of the city, and the configuration of the surrounding ground.—A. G.]
2. The Free cities, Numbers 35:6-16 sqq. The number of free cities is limited to six, which added to the remaining Levitical cities, makes the entire number forty-eight. That the number of the cities occurs here for the first time proves the importance of the free cities. The provision, too, that the Levitical cities should be distributed among the tribes according to their strength, appears here for the first time. The most important Levitical cities, i. e., the cities of the priests, thirteen in number, were divided among the tribes, who later were nearest the sanctuary, Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. No less care appears in the selection of the free, or refuge cities. The location of those on the farther side of Jordan, and those on this side (in Canaan) made the escape to them possible to all. These asylums were announced already in the first giving of the law (Exodus 21:13), these regulations were also fixed before this (Leviticus 4:2), and the law with respect to them was more widely developed later (Deuteronomy 19:1-13.)
These were to be located on three circuits of the land, on both sides of the Jordan; and the roads leading to them should be well kept, so that the avenger of blood should not be able to overtake and slay the innocent fugitive through a long and wearisome and difficult road. [The Jewish tradition held that the cities east and west of the Jordan must correspond with each other; that the three on each side must be equally distant from each other; that the cities must be unwalled—of considerable size, have all the necessaries and conveniences of life, both material as water, markets, etc., and moral as teachers’ schools; in short, be a complete little world. Hirsch says that the שׁגגה or error did not include mistakes occurring through their carelessness, but only cases which could not have been calculated upon, or which could not have been avoided by ordinary human foresight. He adds that their protective character belonged in a secondary sense to the Levitical cities, but was the prominent characteristic of these six cities. Levitical or priestly cities were chosen partly because they would be first resorted to in the administration of justice, and partly also because the land and the people were the Lord’s, and the priests were His representatives; and the crime of shedding blood was pre-eminently offensive to Him, and left its stain upon His land; and therefore those charged with this crime and yet innocent, were to seek refuge in His cities and under His protection. The right and duty of revenge for violations of justice was universally recognized among the ancients. It was exercised at first by every member of the family. It was later restricted in its exercise to some one member, generally the next of kin. It was greatly modified in its application by this Mosaic institution and its attendant features. The Goel—“is that particular relation whose special duty it was to restore the violated family integrity, who had not only to redeem landed property that had been alienated from the family (Leviticus 25:25 sq.), or a member of the family who had fallen into slavery (Leviticus 25:47), but also the blood that had been taken away from the family by murder.” Oehler in Keil’s Com.—A. G.]
The right of asylum created also, according to Numbers 35:15, for the stranger, even those who were merely sojourners in the land. But it was only a free city actually to those who had committed manslaughter, and that without design. The murderer, on the contrary, who fled to it for refuge, ran directly to the bar of judgment and to death. Even the homicide was only protected at first from the rage and violence of the avenger.9 His ultimate freedom from the penalty of death depends upon a variety of conditions. The fugitive must at first stand before the gates of the city of refuge, and state his case to the elders, in order to secure admission into the city, and its protection against the avenger. He had thus to vindicate himself before a judicial investigation.10 Then he could not leave the city of refuge until a fixed terminus was reached. If he wandered from its jurisdiction, the avenger might slay him. As he thus stood, on the one side, under the protection of the free city, the authority of the Levites, and the special protection of Jehovah, to whom the Levite cities as peculiarly holy belonged, so he was, on the other hand, in a certain measure banished from his hearth and home. The terminus moreover for the close of this exile is very remarkable. When the high-priest dies, who is anointed with the sacred oil, he may return to his inheritance in safely. This entirely peculiar method of atonement, rests truly upon the idea that the great event of the death of the high priest covers with respect to God, a mass of sins which have risen from ignorance or mistakes, and causes them to be forgotten by men, and thus forms a terminus or bound which even the avenger of blood must respect. Thus even in a moral sense great national calamities—such as the death of the high priest would be regarded in Israel—have something expiatory in their nature; old enmities and dissensions are lost in the national sorrow. In the interval moreover the hope of the fugitive was kept alive awaiting this terminus, while the passion of the avenger was abated. Keil holds especially from the statement that the high priest was anointed with the holy oil that the death of the earthly high priest, typified that of the heavenly, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God (Hebrews 9:14). It is definitely declared that the priests had to bear the sins of the people; the high priest especially making an atonement stood with his censer between the dead and the living, and his intercession, as his priestly steadfastness when in peril of death, had a somewhat atoning character, as probably also his death. Still we must emphasize the fact that this dynamic or moral efficacy of his death is not mentioned among the definite types of the Old Testament, and could not be so mentioned, since the death of the high priest was not always edifying. [Keil: “In these regulations all the rigor of divine justice is manifested in the most beautiful concord with His mercy. Through the destruction of life, even when not wilful, human blood had been shed and demanded expiation. Yet this expiation did not consist in the death of the offender himself, because he had not sinned wilfully. Hence an asylum was provided for him in the free city to which he might flee, and where he might remain, not as an exile, but under the protection of God, until his sin was expiated by the death of the high priest. The fact that the death of the high priest was regarded as expiatory is evident from the clause, “who has been anointed with the holy oil,” which would appear unmeaning and superfluous on any other view. The anointing with the holy oil was a symbol of the communication of the Holy Ghost, by which the high priest was empowered to act as mediator and representative of the nation before God, so that he alone could carry out the yearly and general expiation for the whole nation on the great day of atonement. But as his life and work acquired a representative signification through this anointing with the Holy Ghost, his death might also be regarded as a death for the Sins of the people, by virtue of the Holy Ghost imputed to him, through which the unintentional manslayer received the benefits of the propitiation for his sins before God, so that he could return cleansed to his native town without further exposure to the avenger of blood. But inasmuch as, according to this view, the death of the high priest had the same result in a certain sense, in relation to his line of office, as his function on the day of atonement had had every year, the death of the earthly high priest became thereby a type of that of the heavenly One, who through the eternal (holy) Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, that we might be redeemed from our transgressions, and receive the promised eternal inheritance. Just as the blood of Christ wrought out eternal redemption only, because through the eternal Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God, so the death of the high priest of the Old Testament secured the complete deliverance of the manslayer from his sin, only because he had been anointed with the holy oil, the symbol of the Holy Ghost.” The death of Christ our High Priest avails to release those who have fled for refuge to Him from all the penalty which their sins deserve. And as the high priest was a type of Christ, his death, as the anointed one, and anointed with the Spirit of life and holiness, had a typical efficacy, and released those who had fled for refuge from the avenger to the priestly cities, and representatively at least, to the city of the high priest. That it is not expressly mentioned as a type by no means excludes it from that relation, nor does the mode or features of the high priest’s death affect its typical any more than its real efficacy.—A. G.]
As the acquittal of the unintentional homicide was not unconditioned, so also the restraints of the avenger are not unlimited. The Goel was legally the nearest relative, or in his default the relative next removed (see the book of Ruth), and ultimately the whole family. In actual life however it was that relative of the slain person who felt most deeply the injury which had been inflicted upon him, and would rather die with the slain, than not to claim back his blood, i. e., leave it unavenged. The impulse of blood revenge was therefore, and still is, the original natural impulse of retributive justice, the source of all criminal jurisprudence. But since the avenger is blinded with passion—and unrestrained pursuit of revenge as a passion always engenders fresh revenges, as is seen, to this day among certain tribes and peoples, e.g., in Arabia—so the law steps in between the avenger and his victim, restrains him in the exercise of his right (and duty) by the judgment of the community, in order that the more natural form of revenge may pass more and more into the unimpassioned decision of the public court and justice. Thus the right of refuge and of revenge stand over against each other, and each exerting a modifying and shaping influence upon the other. In a legal point of view the avenger may still kill the homicide with impunity; and is indeed the executioner of the sentence of the court, if the congregation, or the court of the congregation (i. e., the local court of the city of refuge, or perhaps the highest tribunal of the whole community), should adjudge the homicide a murderer. [The order seems to have been this. The manslayer presented himself to the elders of the city of refuge and stated his case; upon that they received him, and if the charge of crime was pressed, he was to be handed over to the community to which he belonged, and then fully tried. If they found him innocent of intentional murder, he was remitted to the protection of the city of refuge; if otherwise, he was delivered to the avenger.—A. G.]
3. The distinction between homicide and murder.
Numbers 35:16-28. The signs of murder as to the mode. The use of a deadly weapon of iron, or, if heavy enough to cause death, a stone, or of a heavy piece of wood (Cain’s club). [The use of such weapons dangerous to life would imply some evil intent—were presumably proof of a malicious purpose.—A. G.] The motives are hatred and enmity. The means employed an artful plan. Unintentional homicide, on the other hand, might occur from “sudden thrust, a hunting around of a weapon, without enmity; or the casting of a stone without a purpose to injure, or in ignorance of any one in danger, and in cases in which it could then be known that no enmity, no ill-will existed. [See the cases illustrated Deuteronomy 19:4-5.—A. G.] In the former case the avenger takes his course, but in the latter the congregation shall judge, i. e., actually determine, and so rescue the manslayer from his pursuer. As to the manslayer even the sentence the avenger may kill him whenever and wherever he meets him, lights upon him, comes under legal limitations, because otherwise the revenger might designate every homicide as a murderer.11
4. The judgment upon the murderer and his motive.
Numbers 35:29-34. The manslayer can only be convicted of murder by the evidence of several (Deut.: two or three) witnesses. The testimony of a single witness is not sufficient. But if convicted, then he was not to be released upon any expiation, or ransom, or sacrifice, as was done among the heathen nations, by the old Germans, and even in the church of the middle ages. Even the mere manslayer cannot be released from his sentence, that he must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. For whoever is guilty of blood has defiled and desecrated the land; he has stained it with blood, and there is no atonement for these but the blood of the murderer. If he remains unpunished, then the judicatory itself appointed to administer retributive justice defiles the land, the holy land, in which Jehovah dwells with His people—Jehovah as the sacred personality among His people, whom He has trained to a life of sanctified personality. Thus here too the law forms a sacred pedagogic—a method of training by which men are led upwards from the merely natural to the spiritual life. As Moses thus provides for or regulates the oath, the offering, marriage, divorce, the vow, the revenge of jealousy, so now also the blood revenge, in order to lead it to the ideal goal, where the whole society of the people, the entire community, is made responsible for the execution of the penalty or curse resting upon the shedding of human blood. Comp. this Comm. Genesis 9:5-6. [No satisfaction.
Numbers 35:31-32. “The permission to make compensation for murder undoubtedly mitigates in practice the system of private retaliation, but it does so by sacrificing the principle which is the basis of that retaliation itself. Resting ultimately upon that law of God, “that whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” it bids men rest content with a convenient evasion of that law, and connects the authority given to men to act as God’s ministers in taking life for life, with a warrant for enabling the kinsmen of a murdered man to make gain out of his murder. For I the Lord dwell—an emphatic protest against all enactment or relaxation of laws by men for their own private convenience.” Bib. Com. These words too contain the very principle and sum of the whole law above, viz.: this sacredness of human blood or life—since man is made in the image of God.—A. G.]
For the literature see Winer’s Real-Worterbuch, art. “Freistatt.” Dann: Ueber den Ursprung des Asylrechts, etc., Leipsic, 1840. Cowles on the Pentateuch, pp. 280–284. J. D. Michaelis, Laws of Moses. Smith’s Bib. Dict. arts. “Cities of Refuge” and “Revenger of Blood.”
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
The Levites were specially cared for. They are to be, on the one hand, without large possessions, and, on the other, without care, but, above all, intimately connected with the people; an ideal for an ecclesiastical and spiritual class for all time. The hierarchy of the middle ages did not observe this. It took the tithes, but took with them also the landed property. It reversed the Old Testament relations. It did not dwell with the people, but left them to dwell by themselves. And while men who were pursued for an unintentional crime found safety among the Levites in the cities of refuge, under the hierarchy men who were more innocent than unintentional homicides ran directly to their death, into the very tortures of the inquisition. But the right of sanctuary which the churches offered them was a faint reflection of the Old Testament cities of refuge.
The refuge opened in the bosom of the Levitical cities for those who were pursued by the revenger of blood; how great and true a preparation to the New Testament was this union of holiness and mercy.
But the sharp distinctions which are made with respect to these fugitives, between actual murderers and real homicides, are a divine testimony against the fatuities of modern liberalism, and especially against the abominable lie of materialism, which strips all crimes of their guilt.
[“The atoning death of the Saviour casts its shadow before on the statute book of the law, and on the annals of Jewish history. The High Priest as the head and representative of the whole chosen family of sacerdotal mediators, as exclusively entrusted with some of the chief priestly functions, as alone privileged to make yearly atonement within the Holy of Holies, was pre-eminently a type of Christ. And then the death of each successive high-priest presignified that death of Christ by which the captives were to be freed, and the remembrance of transgressions made to cease.” Bib. Com.—A. G.]
The beautiful and suggestive union of the Levitical cities and the cities of Refuge, the instructive element in the regulation of the Levitical cities. The sense of justice is consecrated and sanctified in the establishment of the cities of refuge. The wisdom which shines in the union of the two institutions. The distinction between the murderer and the homicide, a fundamental distinction in all criminal jurisprudence. The justice in the limitations of the right of Asylum. Blood revenge as the root of the courts of law, and these courts as abolishing the blood revenge, just as jealousy is the root of marriage, and marriage is the destruction of jealousy. The difficult and ever new and repeated effort for the reconciliation of judgment and mercy, or even of equity and grace. The reconciliation between the rights of the dead and the rights of the living. The rights of the dead or slain one. The rights of the living. The atoning element in the occurrence of great catastrophes upon the land or on the people. Illustrated in the death of the High Priest. [The sacredness of human life in its relations to society and in its relations to God. How God guards and restrains the working of mere blind revenge, and yet cherishes and gives exercise to the sense of justice. Crimes unpunished bring guilt upon the authorities and courts. Henry: “Here is a great deal of good law and of good gospel. It is here enacted, 1. That wilful murder should be punished with death, and in that case no sanctuary should be allowed, no ransom taken nor any commutation of the punishment accepted; the murderer shall surely be put to death. The redemption of the life is so precious that it cannot be obtained by the multitude of riches. 2. That if the slaying was not voluntary, nor done designedly, there was safety in the city of refuge. The protection was under law. It was a remedial law, and all its provisions must be strictly observed. There is here a great deal of good gospel couched under the type and figures of the cities of refuge. (See Hebrews 6:18.) As, 1. There were several cities, so that the manslayer might easily reach them, so although there is but one Christ, yet He is a refuge at hand. 2. The manslayer was safe in any of these cities, so all who have fled to Christ are safe, Romans 8:1. Romans 8:3. Even strangers and sojourners might have the benefit of these cities, so in Christ Jesus there is no difference between Greek and Jew. 4. If the manslayer left the city to return to his own home, he lay exposed to the avenger of blood, so those that are in Christ must abide in Christ; it is at their peril if they forsake Him or wander from Him. Drawing back is to perdition.” Wordsworth: “Not only does blood pollute the land, but they also who connive at murder when they ought to punish it, are said here to pollute it. Is it then competent to man to abolish capital punishment for murder?”—A. G.]
Marg. above them ye shall give.
Heb. they inherit.
Heb. by error.
Heb. a stone of the hand.
Heb. no blood shall be to him.
Heb. faulty to die.
Heb. there can be no expiation for the blood.
[וּלְכֹל הַיָּתָם animals generally. So Keil, Bib. Com., Wordsworth; but Hirsch suggests that the phrase is used here, not to supplement the enumeration of the pasture animals, but rather to denote every purifying arrangement necessary for health. No grave could be made in the Levite city or region, unless in the cases of those who had fled to them for refuge.—A. G.]
[Jewish Rabbis held that in cases of this crime—where there was no kinsman upon whom the duty fell to revenge the blood shed—the court would appoint one—A. G.]
[So strictly was this interpreted by the Jewish doctors, that even when committed in the presence of the court, the crime could not be punished until a judicial examination. In such a case, however, the court which was to sit and adjudicate the case must be a different one from that before which the offence was committed. The functions of a judge and a witness were in their view not lodged in the same person.—A. G.]
[Hirsch: At the death of the high priest, the homicide returned to his home and possessions, but not to his social position and official honor, even where these were hereditary. All other transgressors, when they were atoned for, were restored to the honors and offices they enjoyed before, and were qualified to hold new positions but the unintentional murderers were excluded.—A. G.]