Numbers 35

Towns for the Levites

1 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the LORD said to Moses,
2 “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns.
3 Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.
4 “The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits[a] from the town wall.
5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits[b] on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Cities of Refuge

6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns.
7 In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands.
8 The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”
9 Then the LORD said to Moses:
10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan,
11 select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee.
12 They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly.
13 These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge.
14 Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge.
15 These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.
16 “ ‘If anyone strikes someone a fatal blow with an iron object, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death.
17 Or if anyone is holding a stone and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death.
18 Or if anyone is holding a wooden object and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death.
19 The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death.
20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at them intentionally so that they die
21 or if out of enmity one person hits another with their fist so that the other dies, that person is to 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 without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally
23 or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended,
24 the assembly must judge between the accused and the avenger of blood according to these regulations.
25 The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send the accused back to the city of refuge to which they fled. The accused must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.
26 “ ‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which they fled
27 and the avenger of blood finds them outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder.
28 The accused must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may they return to their own property.
29 “ ‘This is to have the force of law for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live.
30 “ ‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
31 “ ‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death.
32 “ ‘Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow them to go back and live on their own land before the death of the high priest.
33 “ ‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.
34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’ ”

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 34

  • 1. Numbers 22:1
  • 2. Leviticus 25:32-34; Joshua 14:3,4
  • 3. Joshua 21:1-42
  • 4. Deuteronomy 18:6; Joshua 14:4; Joshua 21:2
  • 5. Joshua 3:4
  • 6. Leviticus 25:34; 2 Chronicles 11:14; 2 Chronicles 13:9; 2 Chronicles 23:2; 2 Chronicles 31:19
  • 7. ver 11; Joshua 21:13; Joshua 20:7-9; Joshua 21:3,13
  • 8. Numbers 26:54; Numbers 33:54; Joshua 21:1-42
  • 9. Numbers 33:51; Deuteronomy 9:1; Joshua 1:2,11; Joshua 20:2
  • 10. ver 22-25
  • 11. S Exodus 21:13; Deuteronomy 19:1-13
  • 12. ver 19; Deuteronomy 19:6; Joshua 20:3; 2 Samuel 14:11
  • 13. ver 26,27,28
  • 14. ver 24,25
  • 15. ver 6,14
  • 16. S Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17
  • 17. S ver 12
  • 18. ver 21
  • 19. Genesis 4:8; S Exodus 21:14; Deuteronomy 19:11; 2 Samuel 3:27; 2 Samuel 20:10
  • 20. Exodus 21:14
  • 21. ver 19
  • 22. ver 11; S Exodus 21:13
  • 23. S ver 12; Joshua 20:6
  • 24. ver 32
  • 25. S Exodus 28:41
  • 26. S Exodus 29:7
  • 27. Numbers 27:11
  • 28. Numbers 10:8
  • 29. S Exodus 12:20
  • 30. ver 16; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; S Matthew 18:16; John 7:51; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Hebrews 10:28
  • 31. Exodus 21:30; Job 6:22; Psalms 49:8; Proverbs 13:8
  • 32. S Genesis 4:10; Genesis 9:6; Psalms 106:38; Micah 4:11
  • 33. Leviticus 18:24,25
  • 34. S Exodus 29:45

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. That is, about 1,500 feet or about 450 meters
  • [b]. That is, about 3,000 feet or about 900 meters

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