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NUMBERS 35

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

 NASB  NKJV  NRSV  TEV   NJB
(MT versing)
Cities for the Levites Cities for the Levites Plans for Levitical Cities and Cities of Refuge The Cities Assigned to the Levites The Portion of the Levites
35:1-3 35:1-8 35:1-5 35:1-8 35:1
35:2-4
35:4-5
Cities of Refuge 35:5-8
35:6-8 Cities of Refuge 35:6-8 The Cities of Refuge Cities of Refuge
35:9-15 35:9-15 35:9-12 35:9-15 35:9
35:10-15
35:13-15
35:16-21 35:16-21 35:16-21 35:16-19 35:16-19
35:20-21 35:20-29
35:22-28 35:22-28 35:22-28 35:22-29
35:29 25:29-34 35:29
35:30-34 35:30-34 35:30-34 35:30-34

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:1-3
1Now 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. 3The 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.

35:2 "give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in" Numbers 35 is basically a description of the Levitical cities which are also found in Lev. 25:32-35 and Joshua 21. There are forty-eight Levitical cities divided among all the tribes. Six of these are special cities of refuge: three in the trans-Jordan area and three in the Promised Land. The Levites took the place of the firstborn child (cf. Exodus 13), and, therefore, did not inherit land, for YHWH was their possession and they served Him in a unique way. However, God provided some plot of land for them for farming, as is seen in verse 2, in that they could have a thousand cubits each around these Levitical cities. Because one of these cities, Hebron, was uniquely given to Caleb, it is my personal opinion that each of these cities was not completely owned and operated by Levites, but probably was shared by members of the tribe in whose division the Levitical city was located. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CITIES OF REFUGE.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:4-5
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. 5You 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.

35:4 "one thousand cubits" A cubit was the distance between a man's longest finger and his elbow, usually about eighteen inches. This was enough land for the priests to have a small flock or garden to supplement what they received from the tithes of the people every year. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CUBIT.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:6-8
6The 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. 7All the cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be forty-eight cities, together with their pasture lands. 8As 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."

35:6 "six cities of refuge" These are discussed in detail in Num. 35:9-24 and Joshua 20. It is interesting that as God continued to expand the borders of the Jews, there was a division for more allotments to be given to the Levites (cf. Num. 35:17; Deut. 19:8-10). The cities of refuge in the trans-Jordan area are: Bezer, Ramoth-Gilead, and Golan; in the Promised Land they are: Hebron, Shechem, and Kadesh, not Kadesh-Barnea in southern Judea, but a city located north of the Sea of Galilee.

▣ "manslayer" This is a Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, BDB 253, KB 1283. It is used 18 times in this chapter.

Numbers 35:19-21 deals with specific cases where there is intent to kill, while vv. 22-28 deal with cases of manslaughter (cf. Exod. 21:12-14). See SPECIAL TOPIC: LAW IN THE ANE, "Casuistic Laws".

35:7 "forty-eight cities" The Levites were meant to be the teachers of the Law, as well as the helpers in the Temple. Spreading them throughout the Promised Land showed that God symbolically dwelt among all of His people (cf. Num. 35:34).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:9-15
9Then 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, 11then you shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge, that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there. 12The 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. 13The cities which you are to give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan; they are to be cities of refuge. 15These 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.'"

35:11 "cities of refuge, that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there" This is a discussion about intentional murder versus unintentional murder. There seems to be two court cases involved (cf. Num. 35:24). Apparently one court met at the city of refuge to which the man fled and if he was found to be innocent, he was retried at the site of the murder. If found to be innocent there of premeditation, then he was returned to the city of refuge where he must live until the death of the High Priest (cf. vv. 25,28). The High Priest's death apparently acted as a kind of atonement for the accidental death of another covenant partner.

It is interesting that in this chapter we are introduced to the term "Go'el" (BDB 145 I), which is often translated as "the kinsman redeemer" (cf. Boaz in the book of Ruth). Here, the same term means "the blood avenger" (cf. Num. 35:19,21,24,25,27). The closest relative was responsible for maintaining family unity, economically and here, in the case of revenge for a death (see Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, pp. 63-65,501). Basically this is an attempt to limit the "eye-for-an-eye" revenge (cf. Exod. 21:23-25), which was common during the time of Israel's living in the desert and to set up the legal procedures of a settled community (see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 150-151). Premeditation seems to be the key in determining whether a death was accidental (cf. Num. 35:22-28) or not (cf. vv. 16-21). See SPECIAL TOPIC: UNINTENTIONAL SINS and NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 42-43.

35:14 It is interesting to note that the phrase "across Jordan" depends on

  1. the location of the later writer
  2. the location of the person speaking

In this verse Moses is on the plains of Moab but the later writer/editor/compiler writes as if in Canaan.

35:15 YHWH's compassion for the alien sojourner is clear from this verse (also note Num. 9:14; 15:15; 19:10; Lev. 16:29; 17:8, 15; 18:26; 20:2; 24:16). There is one law for all!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:16-21
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. 17If 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. 18Or 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. 19The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him. 20If he pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait and as a result he died, 21or 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.'"

35:16 "the murderer shall surely be put to death" The VERB is an intensified grammatical feature (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an IMPERFECT VERB of the same root, BDB 559, KB 562), used six times in this chapter (Num. 35:16, 17, 18, 21, 26, 31).

Israel must be purged of intentional sin (cf. v. 24). See SPECIAL TOPIC: DEATH PENALTY IN ISRAEL.

35:20 The issue of this verse (and v. 22) is the intent of the murderer.

  1. internal motivation ‒ "hate (BDB 971)
  2. the manner of premeditation ‒ "lying in wait" (BDB 841)
35:25
NASB, NKJV, JPSOA  "the priest"
NRSV, TEV, NJB, REB,
Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch
 "the High Priest"
LXX  "the great priest"

The MT has "the priest" but obviously it is the High Priest. The normal title for him in the Pentateuch is "the Priest" (cf. Lev. 21:10).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:29
29"'These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.'"

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:30-34
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. 31Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32You 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. 33So 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. 34You 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.'"

35:30 "at the evidence of witnesses" We learn from Deut. 17:6 and 19:15 that two eyewitnesses were required in order to convict a person. However, it was very unusual to have two eyewitnesses of some crimes. The Hebrew word "witnesses" here does not imply "eyewitness" but allows for some degree of circumstantial testimony.

35:31-32 "you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death" "Ransom" (BDB 497 I) denotes a price paid for the loss of a life (cf. Exod. 21:28-32; Job 33:24; 36:18; Pro. 13:8; 21:18). There was not ransom for premeditated murder (cf. Num. 35:33). The only ransom was the life of the murderer.

35:33 "So you shall not pollute the land in which you are" The discussion of the pollution involved in unsolved murders and how to solve them is found in Deut. 21:3-8 (cf. Ps. 106:38). YHWH was holy (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HOLY ONE) and He could not live among unholy or unclean people. The Day of Atonement provided some reckoning, but these elaborate procedures show the need for God's people to be uniquely holy and like Him (i.e., Lev. 11:45; 19:2; Matt. 5:48).

▣ "no expiation" This is the VERB form of the NOUN "ransom" in Num. 35:31,32, it is a Pual IMPERFECT (BDB 497, KB 493).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why is the list of geographical sites listed in chapter 33 different from the list in other parts of the Pentateuch?
  2. Why is it so difficult to locate these ancient sites?
  3. Did the Jews ever possess the full Promised Land? (look at a map and see the dimensions of the Promised Land)
  4. Why did God give forty-eight cities that were spread out among the tribes to the Levites?
  5. Who is a Go'el and what are his two basic functions in the biblical record?
  6. What is the difference between murder and manslaughter and what is the difference between the penalties involved for each?
  7. Why was the holiness of the Hebrew people so important in the OT period?

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