Numbers 35

Listen to Numbers 35

Cities for the Levites

1 The LORD spoke to Moses in 1the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying,
2 2"Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in. And you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities.
3 The cities shall be theirs to dwell in, and their pasturelands shall be for their cattle and for their livestock and for all their beasts.
4 The pasturelands of the cities, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits[a] all around.
5 And you shall 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, the city being in the middle. This shall belong to them as pastureland for their cities.
6 "The cities that you give to the Levites shall be 3the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.
7 All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be 4forty-eight, with their pasturelands.
8 And as for the cities that you shall give 5from the possession of the people of Israel, 6from the larger tribes you shall take many, and from the smaller tribes you shall take few; each, in proportion to the inheritance that it inherits, shall give of its cities to the Levites."

Cities of Refuge

9 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
10 "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, 7When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,
11 8then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there.
12 The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment.
13 And the cities that you give shall be your 9six cities of refuge.
14 10You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge.
15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and 11for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there.
16 12"But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death.
17 And if he struck him down with a stone tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death.
18 Or if he struck him down with a wooden tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death.
19 13The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.
20 And if he pushed him out of hatred or hurled something at him, 14lying in wait, so that he died,
21 or in enmity struck him down with his hand, so that he died, then he who struck the blow shall be put to death. He is a murderer. 15The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
22 "But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or hurled anything on him 16without lying in wait
23 or used a stone that could cause death, and without seeing him dropped it on him, so that he died, though he was not his enemy and did not seek his harm,
24 then 17the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and 18the avenger of blood, in accordance with these rules.
25 And the congregation shall rescue the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he had fled, and he shall live in it 19until the death of the high priest 20who was anointed with the holy oil.
26 But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the boundaries of his city of refuge to which he fled,
27 and 21the avenger of blood finds him outside the boundaries of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood.
28 For he must remain in his city of refuge 22until the death of the high priest, but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.
29 And these things shall be for 23a statute and rule for you throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.
30 "If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the 24evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.
31 Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.
32 And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest.
33 You shall not 25pollute the land in which you live, for blood 26pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except 27by the blood of the one who shed it.
34 28You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, 29for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel."

Numbers 35 Commentary

Chapter 35

The cities of the Levites. (1-8) The cities of refuge, The laws about murder. (9-34)

Verses 1-8 The cities of the priests and Levites were not only to accommodate them, but to place them, as religious teachers, in several parts of the land. For though the typical service of the tabernacle or temple was only in one place, the preaching of the word of God, and prayer and praise, were not thus confined. These cities were to be given out of each tribe. Each thus made a grateful acknowledgement to God. Each tribe had the benefit of the Levites dwelling amongst them, to teach them the knowledge of the Lord; thus no parts of the country were left to sit in darkness. The gospel provides that he who is taught in the word, should communicate to him that teaches, in all good things, Ga. 6:6 . We are to free God's ministers from distracting cares, and to leave them at leisure for the duties of their station; so that they may be wholly employed therein, and avail themselves of every opportunity, by acts of kindness, to gain the good-will of the people, and to draw their attention.

Verses 9-34 To show plainly the abhorrence of murder, and to provide the more effectually for the punishment of the murderer, the nearest relation of the deceased, under the title of avenger of blood, (or the redeemer of blood,) in notorious cases, might pursue, and execute vengeance. A distinction is made, not between sudden anger and malice aforethought, both which are the crime of murder; but between intentionally striking a man with any weapon likely to cause death, and an unintentional blow. In the latter case alone, the city of refuge afforded protection. Murder in all its forms, and under all disguises, pollutes a land. Alas! that so many murders, under the name of duels, prize-fights, &c. should pass unpunished. There were six cities of refuge; one or other might be reached in less than a day's journey from any part of the land. To these, man-slayers might flee for refuge, and be safe, till they had a fair trial. If acquitted from the charge, they were protected from the avenger of blood; yet they must continue within the bounds of the city till the death of the high priest. Thus we are reminded that the death of the great High Priest is the only means whereby sins are pardoned, and sinners set at liberty. These cities are plainly alluded to, both in the Old and New Testament, we cannot doubt the typical character of their appointment. Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope, saith the voice of mercy, ( Zechariah 9:12 ) , alluding to the city of refuge. St. Paul describes the strong consolation of fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us, in a passage always applied to the gracious appointment of the cities of refuge, ( Hebrews 6:18 ) . The rich mercies of salvation, through Christ, prefigured by these cities, demand our regard. 1. Did the ancient city rear its towers of safety on high? See Christ raised up on the cross; and is he not exalted at the right hand of his Father, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins? 2. Does not the highway of salvation, resemble the smooth and plain path to the city of refuge? Survey the path that leads to the Redeemer. Is there any stumbling-block to be found therein, except that which an evil heart of unbelief supplies for its own fall? 3. Waymarks were set up pointing to the city. And is it not the office of the ministers of the gospel to direct sinners to Him? 4. The gate of the city stood open night and day. Has not Christ declared, Him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out? 5. The city of refuge afforded support to every one who entered its walls. Those who have reached the refuge, may live by faith on Him whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed. 6. The city was a refuge for all. In the gospel there is no respect of persons. That soul lives not which deserves not Divine wrath; that soul lives not which may not in simple faith hope for salvation and life eternal, through the Son of God.

Cross References 29

  • 1. See Numbers 22:1
  • 2. Joshua 14:3, 4; Joshua 21:2; See Ezekiel 45:1-5; Ezekiel 48:8-14
  • 3. ver. 13; Deuteronomy 4:41, 42; Joshua 20:2, 7, 8; Joshua 21:3, 13, 21, 27, 32, 36, 38
  • 4. Joshua 21:41
  • 5. Joshua 21:3
  • 6. Numbers 26:54; Numbers 33:54
  • 7. For ver. 10-12, see Deuteronomy 19:2-4; Joshua 20:2-6
  • 8. Exodus 21:13
  • 9. See ver. 6
  • 10. Deuteronomy 4:41; Joshua 20:8
  • 11. Numbers 15:16
  • 12. Exodus 21:12, 14; Leviticus 24:17; Deuteronomy 19:11, 12
  • 13. Deuteronomy 19:6, 12; Joshua 20:3, 5
  • 14. Exodus 21:14; Deuteronomy 19:11
  • 15. [See ver. 19 above]
  • 16. Exodus 21:13
  • 17. ver. 12; Joshua 20:6
  • 18. [See ver. 19 above]
  • 19. Joshua 20:6
  • 20. Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 21:10
  • 21. [See ver. 19 above]
  • 22. [See ver. 25 above]
  • 23. Numbers 27:11
  • 24. Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Hebrews 10:28; [Matthew 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19]
  • 25. Psalms 106:38; Jer. 3:1, 2, 9; [Micah 4:11]
  • 26. Psalms 106:38; Jer. 3:1, 2, 9; [Micah 4:11]
  • 27. See Genesis 9:6
  • 28. Leviticus 18:25; Deuteronomy 21:23
  • 29. See Exodus 29:45

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. A cubit was about 18 inches or 45 centimeters

Chapter Summary


Though the tribe of Levi had no part in the division of the land, yet cities out of the several tribes are here ordered to be given them to dwell in, to the number of forty eight, Nu 35:1-8, six of which were to be cities of refuge, Nu 35:9-15, but not for wilful murderers, in whatsoever way they might kill a man, Nu 35:16-21, but for such who had killed a man unawares, Nu 35:22-24, and several rules are given relating to such persons, Nu 35:25-29, but no satisfaction was to be taken in case of murder, nor to excuse a person's return to his own house before the death of the high priest, who had fled to a city of refuge, that so the land might not be defiled, Nu 35:30-34.

Numbers 35 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.