The Towns for the Levites
1While the people of Israel were still camped in the lowlands of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, the LORD told Moses 2to say to them:
When you receive your tribal lands, you must give towns and pastures to the Levi tribe. 3That way, the Levites will have towns to live in and pastures for their animals. 4-5The pasture around each of these towns must be in the shape of a square, with the town itself in the center. The pasture is to measure three thousand feet on each side, with fifteen hundred feet of land outside each of the town walls. This will be the Levites’ pastureland.
The tribe of Levi had no “state” or “province” within Israel. Their inheritance was to be the Lord alone: Then the Lord said to Aaron: You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel (Numbers 18:20). Yet, the Levites had to live somewhere. God commanded that each tribe give cities to the Levites, so that the Levites would be sprinkled throughout the whole nation. The Levites were to be given more than just the cities; around each city, they were to be given common-land — land suitable for the grazing of their animals and for small-scale farming.
–David Guzik (and all following remarks in purple)
6Six of the towns you give them will be Safe Towns where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection. But you will also give the Levites forty-two other towns, 7so they will have a total of forty-eight towns with their surrounding pastures.
8Since the towns for the Levites must come from Israel’s own tribal lands, the larger tribes will give more towns than the smaller ones.
This reflects God’s desire to evenly distribute the Levites, who were to be the most spiritually focused Israelites — the full-time ministers, so to speak — evenly throughout Israel, so their influence could be distributed throughout the whole nation. This shows the wisdom of God in not making a Levitical state that others would have to go to. God intended that these ministers go out among the people, to influence them for the Lord.
In the same way, God does not intend that there be a Christian country or state where all the Christians live together in spiritual bliss, and simply say to the world, “come and join us if you want.” Instead, God wants Christians to be sprinkled throughout the whole world, influencing people for Jesus Christ.
The Safe Towns
9The LORD then told Moses 10to tell the people of Israel:
After you have crossed the Jordan River and are settled in Canaan, 11choose Safe Towns, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection. 12If the victim’s relatives think it was murder, they might try to take revenge. Anyone accused of murder can run to one of these Safe Towns for protection and not be killed before a trial is held. 13There are to be six of these Safe Towns, 14three on each side of the Jordan River. 15They will be places of protection for anyone who lives in Israel and accidentally kills someone.
Joshua 20:7-8 records the actual choice of the cities. They fulfilled the plan of being evenly distributed; no one was very far from a city of refuge. Deuteronomy 19:3 also tells us that proper roads were to be built and maintained to these cities of refuge. A city of refuge was no good if the slayer could not get there quickly.
Laws about Murder and Accidental Killing
The LORD said:
Significantly, the Bible makes the clear distinction between killing and murder. All murder is killing; but not all killing is murder. Society needs laws to establish the principles that decide a death to be either an unfortunate killing or true murder.
16-18Suppose you hit someone with a piece of iron or a large stone or a dangerous wooden tool. If that person dies, then you are a murderer and must be put to death 19by one of the victim’s relatives. He will take revenge for his relative’s death as soon as he finds you.
20-21Or suppose you get angry and kill someone by pushing or hitting or by throwing something. You are a murderer and must be put to death by one of the victim’s relatives.
Matthew 5:22 (NIV)
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
22-24But if you are not angry and accidentally kill someone in any of these ways, the townspeople must hold a trial and decide if you are guilty. 25If they decide that you are innocent, you will be protected from the victim’s relative and sent to stay in one of the Safe Towns until the high priest dies. 26But if you ever leave the Safe Town 27and are killed by the victim’s relative, he cannot be punished for killing you. 28You must stay inside the town until the high priest dies; only then can you go back home.
29The community of Israel must always obey these laws.
30Death is the penalty for murder.
Genesis 9:6 (ESV)
“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.”
But no one accused of murder can be put to death unless there are at least two witnesses to the crime. 31You cannot give someone money to escape the death penalty; you must pay with your own life!
32And if you have been proven innocent of murder and are living in a Safe Town, you cannot pay to go back home; you must stay there until the high priest dies.
33-34I, the LORD, live among you people of Israel, so your land must be kept pure. But when a murder takes place, blood pollutes the land, and it becomes unclean. If that happens, the murderer must be put to death, so the land will be clean again. Keep murder out of Israel!
HERE is “Let There Be Peace on Earth” sung by the Harlem Boys’ Choir. How our communities, our nation, our world all need this message! Today, “Let it begin with me.”
Images courtesy of:
“Dove of Peace.” Stained glass by Chantel Pare. http://chantalstainedglass.50megs.com/images/3peacedove_btn.jpg
city of refuge. http://www.bibleexplained.com/moses/Numb/c%20f%20refuge-sm.jpg