1 - 3 What the Levites Get from the Land
1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho, saying, 2 “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities. 3 The cities shall be theirs to live in; and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle and for their herds and for all their beasts.
Not only are there leaders, as in the previous chapter, there are also Levites who play an important role in dividing the land. Levites have no inheritance of their own (Num 1:47-53). They will have their own cities with pasture lands around them. That’s for the cattle they have.
The cities of the Levites will be scattered all over the land. They won’t live in the land near the temple, as they had their camp in the wilderness near the tabernacle. Their dispersion across the land is a fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy (Gen 49:7). God thus makes a matter that in itself means a judgment – Levi has committed violence and earned judgment – a matter that is a blessing. Through their dispersion through the land they are able to teach the people God’s statutes everywhere, for that is their task (Deu 17:9; 33:10; Lev 10:10-11; 2Chr 19:8-10; Mal 2:4-7).
Here we read for the first time about cities that the people will own in the land. A city also speaks of the church, but as a reflection of the city of God (Rev 21:10). Levite cities are all reflections of the city of God where He is served, day and night. Thus, local churches are reflections of the one church of God. In a Levite city, all Levites are working to promote priestly service. It is to be hoped that every believer in a local church will be busy for that.
4 - 5 Size of the Pasture Lands
4 “The pasture lands of the cities which you shall give to the Levites [shall extend] from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits around. 5 You shall also measure outside 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, with the city in the center. This shall become theirs as pasture lands for the cities.
The pasture land is intended for the Levite cattle and not for cultivation. They do not need to sow and mow and have stock barns. God provides for their livelihood through the tenths of the proceeds of the work of others. By this they can concentrate on the study of the law and the teaching of it to the people of God.
The size of the pasture land also determines the size of their property. They will never become large landowners with a huge herd. God did not mean this for the Levites either. God gives His servants what they need to sacrifice and do their work.
6 Six Cities of Refuge
6 The cities which you shall give to the Levites [shall be] the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer to flee to; and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.
In Exodus 21, a free zone is spoken of for the first time (Exo 21:12-14). There it is not yet a city, but the altar. Once in the land the way to the altar in Jerusalem will in many cases be too far to stay out of the hands of the blood avenger (Deu 19:6). Therefore God has given cities of refuge.
Deuteronomy 4 and Deuteronomy 19 also refer to cities of refuge. In Joshua 20, all six are mentioned and designated as such. In Joshua 21 the division of the forty-eight Levite cities, including the cities of refuge, follows.
The time a manslayer would have to spend in such a city could last long. All this time he will be there as a stranger under the direct teaching of the Levites.
7 - 8 Forty-eight Levite Cities
7 All the cities which you shall give to the Levites [shall be] forty-eight cities, together with their pasture lands. 8 As for the cities which you shall give from the possession of the sons of Israel, you shall take more from the larger and you shall take less from the smaller; each shall give some of his cities to the Levites in proportion to his possession which he inherits.”
The forty-eight cities that are for the Levites must be given to the Levites by the other tribes in proportion to their inheritance. The number forty-eight can be seen as the result of the multiplication of six and eight. The number six is the number of man created on the sixth day. The number eight represents a new beginning. We see this in Levi, who was judged for his sin, but whose judgment has been changed by God into something new.
Every tribe that gives a city as a Levite city will thus prove its gratitude to God for such a privilege. It is a privilege for the church to have faithful teachers everywhere who teach about and from God’s Word. The appreciation of this privilege will be reflected in giving those teachers what is necessary so that they can give their time to studying the Word of God and passing it on (Gal 6:6).
9 - 15 Cities of Refuge Are for the Manslayer
9 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 then you shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge, that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there. 12 The cities shall be to you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer will not die until he stands before the congregation for trial. 13 The cities which you are to give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14 You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan; they are to be cities of refuge. 15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the sons of Israel, and for the alien and for the sojourner among them; that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there.
The cities of refuge are for the manslayer. In the case of manslaughter we have the following to deal with:
1. The act, where it must distinguished between unintentionally and intentionally manslaughter.
2. The manslayer, who flees to the nearest city of refuge to stay out of the hands of the blood avenger – the blood avenger is the next of kin of the victim, who stands up for his interests.
3. The elders of the city of refuge investigate whether the manslaughter was accidental or deliberate.
4. If it turns out to be deliberate manslaughter, the manslayer is handed over to the blood avenger, who then kills the manslayer.
5. If the manslaughter is not intentional, the manslayer may remain in the city of refuge and is free from the vengeance of the blood avenger. However, he must remain in this city until the death of the high priest, for as soon as he leaves the city during the life of the high priest, the blood avenger is still entitled to kill him. Safety is only guaranteed in the city.
There are three free cities in the land and three in wilderness side of the Jordan. The three cities in the land are all situated in the heights, so that they can be seen from afar. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mt 5:14b).
Assuming that there may be manslayers in the land, God points to abnormal conditions in the land. For the people, the land means living in abundance. But here God foresees the opposite.
In its application we can think of Israel, but also of Christianity. Israel killed the Messiah, but it did so ignorantly. Therefore there is hope for the people. The manslaughter of the Messiah is not attributed to the people as if it had been premeditated. We hear this in the words of the Lord Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34a). About fifty days later Peter says something similar: “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also” (Acts 3:17).
In Acts 2 Peter opens the gates of the city of refuge in his call to conversion. Three thousand people listen to it and are added to the church (Acts 2:41). What is written in Hebrews 6 applies to those and to all who further from the Jews accepted the Lord Jesus as the land of Heaven: “who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us” (Heb 6:18). This makes Christ the true city of refuge.
Not only the Jews are guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus. The Gentiles are too. They too did it in ignorance: “For if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2:6,8). For repentant Jews and Gentiles, the church functions as a city of refuge.
The city of refuge is also a type of city of refuge for Gentiles, because the alien and the sojourner can also make use of the privilege of these cities of refuge (verse 15). Thus in Christ Jesus no difference is made between Greek and Jew. Gentiles who by faith take refuge to Christ will be safe and saved in Him, because for both it is true: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
But not only the Jews and the Gentiles are guilty. The principle of manslaughter also applies to the church as responsible witness on earth. In a spiritual sense, the church, in the sense of Christianity, has also become a manslayer. She robbed the Lord Jesus of His headship and took it in her own hands. The assumption of the entering into the rights of Christ is most clearly visible in the papacy. The same applies to all human statutes that deny or limit the working of God’s Spirit in the church.
Those who become aware of this will feel the need for a city of refuge. He will seek a city of refuge where the rights and authority of the Lord Jesus are recognized by His Word and Spirit. In such a city of refuge the Spirit is not quenched (1Thes 5:19) by human rules and commandments. These rules may be laid down in confessional writings, but unwritten rules of tradition are also deadly for the experience of the work of God’s Spirit who wants to glorify Christ.
The church also has to do with “the blood avenger”, that is God Himself. He has not spared the branches of the olive tree, that is Israel. He has set aside His people for a time. Nor will he spare the church, seen as the professing Christianity, if it does not remain in the knowledge that it is entirely dependent on the mercy of God (Rom 11:21-22).
It is deeply about the people of God who live in the inheritance. There are the cities of Levi, some of which are also places of refuge for Christians who have become manslayers. Manslayers suffocate the true life of God. We recognize them in people who profess to be Christians, who claim the inheritance, while their true nature is that they proclaim false doctrine concerning the Lord Jesus. They deny for instance His virgin birth, His death on the cross and His resurrection. By doing so they kill the faith of many. If such people repent, they can go to city of refuge.
A local church should be a visible place, a city on a mountain that cannot be hidden. Then the many who are fleeing will be able to find a refuge there. Are we well known as such?
16 - 21 When the Manslayer Must Die
16 ‘But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 17 If he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which he will die, and [as a result] he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 18 Or if he struck him with a wooden object in the hand, by which he might die, and [as a result] he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. 19 The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him. 20 If he pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait and [as a result] he died, 21 or if he struck him down with his hand in enmity, and [as a result] he died, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death, he is a murderer; the blood avenger shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
Before the manslayer can be granted asylum, it must be established whether he has accidentally killed someone or deliberately done so. If it has been intentionally done, the blood avenger will kill the murderer. Shed blood must be avenged. The guilt that has been placed on the land by the shedding of blood can only be erased by the blood of the guilty person.
Intention is assumed when the manslayer has beaten the other with something in his hand. He had to know that he could kill the other and should never have used that object against the other. There is also deliberate intent in the case of hatred and enmity. Then a push or a blow comes from a murderous mind.
The blood avenger is someone who stands up for family rights. The word for “blood-avenger” – in Hebrew goël – is also used for “close kinsman” in the case of the redemption of a lost family property (Lev 25:25-26; Rth 3:9). He also acts in favor of family law.
22 - 25 The City of Refuge as a Place of Residence
22 ‘But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or threw something at him without lying in wait, 23 or with any deadly object of stone, and without seeing it dropped on him so that he died, while he was not his enemy nor seeking his injury, 24 then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the blood avenger according to these ordinances. 25 The congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the blood avenger, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he fled; and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.
There are cases where the manslayer is allowed to live in the city of refuge. This is the case when the manslayer has accidentally pushed, hit or struck someone with a stone and killed the other person. This event then took place without the purpose of harming the other. Then there is death without intent. If that happens, the manslayer can stay in the city of refuge, he doesn’t have to die, the blood avenger is not allowed to kill him.
Even though grace is given to him that he does not have to die, he is not allowed not return to his inheritance. Only after the death of the high priest who is there at the time of the manslaughter, the manslayer is free to return to his inheritance. This aspect is only covered in Numbers.
The death of the High Priest represents in picture the end of the High Priesthood of the Lord Jesus as He exercises it now. The priesthood of Christ now is a testimony that Israel is still rejected. It is a high priesthood in heaven in which He can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15). We see this high priesthood in picture in Aaron.
When the Lord Jesus has taken us, the church, out of this world, we no longer need Him as such. Then He will appear for Israel as the High Priest to the order of Melchizedek to put His people back in possession of their inheritance.
26 - 29 Only Safe in the City of Refuge
26 But if the manslayer at any time goes beyond the border of his city of refuge to which he may flee, 27 and the blood avenger finds him outside the border of his city of refuge, and the blood avenger kills the manslayer, he will 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 shall return to the land of his possession. 29 ‘These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
The manslayer is only safe in the city of refuge. When he leaves the city of refuge and falls into the hands of the blood avenger, he is still killed. The city of refuge is a place of separation, with the character of a Levite city. Believers who go outside the local church and no longer seek their protection and support there, will lose their lives. We can apply this to not attending the meetings to build up the faith. When there is no longer a need for spiritual food and education and when opportunities to visit God’s Word are no longer sought, spiritual death generally follows.
30 More Than One Witness
30 ‘If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.
In order to obtain sufficient testimony in a case of a manslayer, at least two witnesses must give evidence. One witness is not enough. It is so according to God’s thoughts, and Paul acts accordingly: “Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2Cor 13:1b; Mt 18:16; 1Tim 5:19). Even the Lord Jesus says that His testimony is not true if only He bears witness of Himself (Jn 5:31), that is, it cannot be accepted as legally valid. Thus He Himself has let it be written down in the law (Deu 19:15). A testimony can only be accepted if there are witnesses who can confirm the case.
31 - 32 No Ransom
31 Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32 You shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest.
No amount, no matter how high, no effort, no matter how great, can cause a guilty manslayer evade punishment. For us it is only through faith in the power of the blood of the Lord Jesus that there is salvation (1Pet 1:18-19; Rom 3:19,23-26).
Only the death of the high priest gives the right to return to his own piece of land. The people who have now, in our days, returned to the land do so before the death of the High Priest. The Lord Jesus is still busy as High Priest in Heaven. The people who have returned do so in unbelief. They will revolt against God under the antichrist and perish under the wrath of the returning Messiah.
33 - 34 The Land Shall Not Be Polluted
33 So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34 You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.’”
If God dwells in His land, it must not be defiled. The blood of someone who has been deliberately killed pollutes the land. This defilement can only be removed by shedding the blood of the manslayer. This means that the land can only be cleansed by killing all those who live there, because all the people are guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus. The miracle of God’s grace is now that the blood of the Innocent has cleansed the land. The whole creation will be cleansed on the basis of His shed blood.
The latter does not concern all men, but all things: “For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say,] whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, [engaged] in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you” (Col 1:19-22a). The last part of the quotation makes it clear that all who have accepted Christ and His work in faith are already “now” cleansed and reconciled.