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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.

1. And the Lord spake unto Moses. Although there was no inheritance assigned to the tribe of Levi, yet it was necessary that they should be supplied with dwelling-places. No lands were given then where they might sow and reap; but by way of compensation the tithes were a sufficient means of subsistence, even after deducting the tithes which were paid to the poor. God now, however, makes provision for their residences; and here we must carefully remark, that they were so distributed over the whole land, as to be, as it were, guards regularly posted for the preservation of the worship of God, lest any superstition should creep in, or the people should fall into gross contempt of God. For we know that they were chosen by Him, not only to attend to the ceremonies, but to be the interpreters of the law, and to cherish sincere piety among the people. Now if all had been placed in one station, it was dangerous lest the doctrine of the Law should immediately fall into oblivion through the whole land; and thus the other tribes should grow irreligious. Wherefore the incomparable goodness of God here shone forth, since their punishment was turned as it were into a reward of virtue, and their disgrace into honor; for this dispersion of the tribe of Levi had been foretold by the holy patriarch Jacob, (Genesis 46:7,) that their posterity should be scattered in that land, which Levi the father of their race had polluted by a detestable murder and wicked perfidy. God proved eventually that this prophecy, which proceeded from Him, did not fall to the ground unfulfilled; nevertheless, although the Levites were to be banished here and there in token of their disgrace, yet were they set in various parts of the land, that they might retain the other tribes under the yoke of the Law. It was then in God’s wonderful providence that they were rather placed in peculiar and fixed residences, than allowed to mingle themselves promiscuously with the rest of the people; for the cities which God assigned to them were so many schools, where they might better and more freely engage themselves in teaching the Law, and prepare themselves for performing the office of teaching. For if they had lived indiscriminately among the multitude, they were liable to contract many vices, as well as to neglect the study of the Law; but when they were thus collected into separate classes, such an union reminded them that they were divided from the people that they might devote themselves altogether to God. Besides, their cities were like lamps shining into the very furthest corners of the land. They were therefore fortified, as it were, by walls, lest the corruptions of the people should penetrate to them. Their association together also should have stimulated them mutually to exhort each other to confinehey, decent and modest manners, temperance, and other virtues worthy of God’s servants; whilst, if they fell into dissolute habits, they were the less excusable. Thus their cities were like watch towers in which they might keep guard, so as to drive impiety away from the borders of the holy land. Hence was the light of heavenly doctrine diffused; hence was the seed of life scattered; hence were the examples to be sought of holiness and universal integrity.

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