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Cities for the Levites


In the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, the L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Command the Israelites to give, from the inheritance that they possess, towns for the Levites to live in; you shall also give to the Levites pasture lands surrounding the towns. 3The towns shall be theirs to live in, and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle, for their livestock, and for all their animals. 4The pasture lands of the towns, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the town outward a thousand cubits all around. 5You shall measure, outside the town, for the east side two thousand cubits, for the south side two thousand cubits, for the west side two thousand cubits, and for the north side two thousand cubits, with the town in the middle; this shall belong to them as pasture land for their towns.

6 The towns that you give to the Levites shall include the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit a slayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two towns. 7The towns that you give to the Levites shall total forty-eight, with their pasture lands. 8And as for the towns that you shall give from the possession of the Israelites, from the larger tribes you shall take many, and from the smaller tribes you shall take few; each, in proportion to the inheritance that it obtains, shall give of its towns to the Levites.

Cities of Refuge

9 The L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 10Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. 12The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation.

13 The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: 14you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. 15These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there.

Concerning Murder and Blood Revenge

16 But anyone who strikes another with an iron object, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 17Or anyone who strikes another with a stone in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 18Or anyone who strikes another with a weapon of wood in hand that could cause death, and death ensues, is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 19The avenger of blood is the one who shall put the murderer to death; when they meet, the avenger of blood shall execute the sentence. 20Likewise, if someone pushes another from hatred, or hurls something at another, lying in wait, and death ensues, 21or in enmity strikes another with the hand, and death ensues, then the one who struck the blow shall be put to death; that person is a murderer; the avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death, when they meet.

22 But if someone pushes another suddenly without enmity, or hurls any object without lying in wait, 23or, while handling any stone that could cause death, unintentionally drops it on another and death ensues, though they were not enemies, and no harm was intended, 24then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances; 25and the congregation shall rescue the slayer from the avenger of blood. Then the congregation shall send the slayer back to the original city of refuge. The slayer shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. 26But if the slayer shall at any time go outside the bounds of the original city of refuge, 27and is found by the avenger of blood outside the bounds of the city of refuge, and is killed by the avenger, no bloodguilt shall be incurred. 28For the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer may return home.

29 These things shall be a statute and ordinance for you throughout your generations wherever you live.

30 If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. 31Moreover you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death. 32Nor shall you accept ransom for one who has fled to a city of refuge, enabling the fugitive to return to live in the land before the death of the high priest. 33You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the L ord dwell among the Israelites.

19. The revenger 5555     “Propinquus sanguinis.” — Lat. of blood himself. When God commanded that murderers should suffer death, He required that they should be condemned by the judges after due trial; but it seems to savor somewhat of barbarism, that he should now permit the relative of the dead man to take vengeance; for it is a very bad precedent to give the power of the sword to private individuals, and this too in their own cause. It; was indeed formerly permitted, as we shall see in its proper place, to put to death robbers by night, as also it was lawful for the husband, or the father, of a ravished woman to kill the adulterer caught in the fact; but it is absurd that the law should allow a person to avenge the death of his brother. But it is not to be supposed that this license was ever accorded by God, that a man might neglect the public authorities, and inflict punishment on his brothers murderer, wherever he should meet him; for this would have been to give the reins to sudden anger, so that blood would be added to blood. Wherefore it is probable that the danger of this is here denounced, rather than the gate opened to private vengeance; as if it had been said, that unless a provision were made for the innocent, the fury of those whose kindred had been slain, could hardly be restrained; not because it was lawful for them to render violence for violence, but because they would not consider it a crime, and impunity would prove a stimulus even to them, if their just indignation should be pardoned. It must be understood, then, that when a man had been maliciously and willfully killed, a death inflicted by his relative in vengeance was not punished; because it was hard that a man should be capitally condemned as a criminal, who had only slain a murderer already exposed to capital punishment, under the impulse of that love towards his own blood, which is naturally implanted in all. This, however, was tolerated, and not approved of, because, as I have already said, punishments are to be inflicted by public judgment, and not by private will. But, since this indulgence was conceded on account of the people’s hardness of heart, God here reminds them how needful it was to provide an asylum for the innocent, because all murderers would else have been indiscriminately attacked. In short, a comparison is made between the guilty and the innocent, for, unless a just distinction had been drawn, all alike would have been exposed to death. The murderer, he says, is worthy of death, if, perchance, he is met by the kinsman of the man murdered. A remedy is, therefore, to be provided, lest one who is not criminal should accidentally receive the same punishment. Hence, at length it is gathered that a distinction is made between one and the other, by a lawful trial. The mode of procedure is also prescribed, viz., that the congregation should acquit the man who has killed another unwittingly. But because there is some perplexity in the words, it must be observed, that as soon as a person had slain another, he immediately betook himself to the place of refuge, and there declared that he sought shelter. After this declaration, it was open for the relatives of the dead man to lay their accusation, and then, after both parties were heard, judgment was pronounced. Otherwise there is a manifest contradiction in the context, since it is presently added; they “shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled,” whence it appears that, after the exile had presented himself to state his case, and to clear himself, it was usual that a day should be appointed, upon which his accusers should come forward. The sum is, that the murderer should nowhere find refuge, except he were acquitted of his crime. This was an excellent precaution, lest the same punishment should be inflicted upon mischance and criminality, whilst 5656     The Fr. gives a different turn to this sentence; “que pour obvier a un nouveau meurtre en bannissant pour un temps celuy, qui avoit tue quelqu’un par erreur;” as well as to prevent a fresh murder, by banishing, for a time, the person who had killed another unintentionally. at the same time, by the temporary banishment it was testified how carefully bloodshed was to be avoided. God likewise spared the eyes of those whose brother had been killed, lest their grief should be kept alive by continually beholding (the person who had killed him; 5757     Added from Fr. ) and this we gather from verse 26, where impunity is conceded to the relations, if they had caught and killed out of the boundaries of his refuge the man, whose duty it was to withdraw himself; not because the fury of their indignation was excused before God, but because it would else have been difficult to restrain the strong desire of vengeance proceeding from the feelings of human nature.

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