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Scripture reading – Numbers 34-35
The Borders of the Promised Land (34:1-15)
Numbers 34 records the boundaries of the land the LORD promised Abraham and his seed as their inheritance (Genesis 15:18-21; 26:4; 28:13-14). Although the land would not be formally divided by tribe until Joshua 15-19, we are given the southern boundaries (34:3-5), with the western border being the “great sea” (the Mediterranean Sea, 34:6). The northernmost limit of Israel was to be Mount Hor (34:7-9), and the eastern boundary was the Jordan River (34:10-13). Per their request, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had “received their inheritance on [the east] side Jordan [River] near Jericho” (34:14-15).
Dividing and Allocating the Land (34:16-29)
With the assistance of “Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun” (34:17), the LORD chose a man from each of the tribes to represent his tribe when the land would be divided (34:18-29).
The Inheritance and Provision for the Tribe of Levi (35:1-5, 7)
Unlike the other tribes, the priestly tribe of Levi was not assigned a portion of the land. Instead, forty-eight cities and suburbs would be allotted to the Levites as their inheritance. Those cities and suburbs were to be located amid the lands apportioned to the Twelve Tribes on the east and west sides of the Jordan River (35:1-5,7).
The Laws Governing Murder and Manslaughter (35:6-15)
Of the forty-eight Levite cities, six were to be designated “cities for refuge,” to which men would flee in the event they had taken the life of another (35:6-8). Three cities of refuge were to be located on the east side of the Jordan and three on the west side (35:9-14).
Cities of Refuge (35:15-32)
The cities of refuge offered haven to a mankiller (“man slayer”) until the congregation tried him. Then a determination was made whether or not he was guilty of murder (35:15-29). Nevertheless, the cities of refuge could not serve as a haven for a man guilty of murder.
Taking the life of another was a violation of the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), and the judgment of God was: “The murderer shall surely be put to death” (35:16). A blood kinsman had the right to avenge the death of his loved one, and to him fell the responsibility of slaying the murderer (35:17-21).
Should a man slay another “unawares,” an unintentional, accidental killing, he could seek sanctuary in a city of refuge. So long as he stayed within the city, he was safe. Should a man guilty of manslaughter depart from the protection of his city of refuge, a blood relative could avenge the death of a loved one (35:25-28). Only the high priest’s death could release one guilty of manslaughter from the confines of a city of refuge (35:28).
In cases of capital punishment, it was required that more than one witness would give testimony before a man could be convicted of murder and killed (35:30). Ransom or bribes that were intended to spare the life of a murderer were forbidden (35:31-32).
A Dire, Sober Warning (35:33-34)
“So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land 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.” (Numbers 35:33–34)
Take a moment, and weigh the gravity of taking the life of another. When there is no justice for the slain, and the murderer goes unpunished, the innocent blood “defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood” (35:33b). Indeed, the only means of cleansing a land of innocent blood, and a nation of its guilt, is by exacting justice, and taking the life of the murderer.
Warning: When justice for the innocent fails, a nation is cursed, and its people live under the shadow of God’s judgment. The decay we observe today results from societies and governments that have forsaken justice for the innocent and preferred the criminal over his victim.
Some say, “There is no justice!” Oh, but there is, for the LORD will exact justice for the innocent. Yet, is there hope for a people and nation guilty of injustices and has failed the innocent?
Yes! But only by repentance. If they call upon the LORD, “humble themselves, and pray, and seek [God’s] face, and turn from their wicked ways” (2 Chronicles 7:14a), only then does God promise, “I [will] hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14ba).
Questions to consider:
1) What land did the LORD promise Israel? (Numbers 34:2)
2) What tribes preferred territory that lay outside the boundaries of the Promised Land? (Numbers 34:14-15)
3) What tribe was given cities and suburbs rather than land? (Numbers 35:2)
4) What purpose did the cities of refuge serve? (Numbers 35:6)
5) Who would decide if a man was guilty of murder or manslaughter? (Numbers 35:24-25)
Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith
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