BIBLE STUDY SERIES #425, 426 and 427

16 January, 2000


By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing sequence of Bible Studies is intended to examine each portion of Holy Writ in turn, in order to elicit therefrom those spiritual and historic benefits which Our LORD may have sealed therein for today's descendants of those very same Israelites. We are, just at present, sustaining that intention through a sequence of chapters which, by their very nature seem to have had an important application historically in ancient times, but which appear to lack any significant relationship to today's world or to the people in it who might have a mind to reach out to their God for the daily help that Christians are led to expect when they turn to the Scriptures.

With this in mind, I believe, therefore that it will perhaps form a point of contact if we realise that, just as the ancestral Israelites of our own folk, (of whom the greater part are today formed up under the names "Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples"), were often reluctant to operate under the exacting guidelines which God imposed through Moses for the entry into that physical Land of Promise in their day, we too must realise that the benefits of His ultimate Grand Design of final blessings to all mankind rest upon the acceptance of the exacting instructions which The Deity imposes upon ourselves.

Today, we, as the descendants of those Israelites of Biblical record, and inheritors of our portion within that Kingdom must be similarly instructed and guided through our own entries into the equivalent Kingdom for which Christ told us to pray in the Lord's Prayer, namely, The Father's Kingdom which ever operates in Heaven, and which is to rest here upon earth in its fullest manifestation at The second Advent of Jesus Christ.

Of the chapter before us, Keil and Delitzsch provide certain introductory thoughts which extend through to Numbers 36, and which we may find beneficial because they provide clarification of the organization of that whole section of Scripture. They introduce the whole topic under the heading "Instructions Concerning the Conquest and Distribution of Canaan. - Chap. xxxiii.50 - Chap. xxxvi. 13." and proceed by stating: "These instruction, with which the eyes of the Israelites were directed to the end of all their wandering, viz. the possession of the promised land, are arranged in two sections by longer introductory formulas (chap. xxxiii.50 and xxxv. 1). The former contains the divine commands (a) with regard to the extermination of the Canaanites and their idolatry, and the division of the land among the tribes of Israel (chap. xxxiii. 50-56); (b) concerning the boundaries of Canaan (chap. xxxiv. 1-15); (c) concerning the men who were to divide the land (chap. xxxiv. 16-29). The second contains commands (a) respecting the towns to be given up to the Levites (chap. xxxv. 1-8); (b) as to the setting apart of cities of refuge for unintentional manslayers, and the course to be adopted in relation to such manslayers (chap. xxxv. 9-34); and (c) a law concerning the marrying of heiresses within their own tribes (chap. xxxvi.)."

Having refreshed our approach through this sustaining link, let us read the list of instructions which God gave Moses to record for all time in His Holy Word. Numbers 34 sets forth the word in the following lines:

1. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2. Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land of Canaan; (this is the land that shall fall unto you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan with the coasts thereof:)
3. Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the coast of Edom, and your south border shall be the outmost coast of the salt sea eastward:
4 And your border shall turn from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass on to Zin: and the going forth thereof shall be from the south to Kadeshbarnea, and shall go on to Hazaraddar, and pass on to Azmon:
5. And the border shall fetch a compass from Azmon unto the river of Egypt, and the goings out of it shall be at the sea.
6. And as for the western border, ye shall even have the great sea for a border: this shall be your west border.
7. And this shall be your north border: from the great sea ye shall point out for you mount Hor:
8. From mount Hor ye shall point out your border unto the entrance of Hamath; and the goings forth of the border shall be to Zedad:
9. And the border shall go on to Ziphron, and the goings out of it shall be at Hazarenan: this shall be your north border.
10. And ye shall point out your east border from Hazarenan to Shepham:
11. And the coast shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall descend, and shall reach unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward:
12. And the border shall go down to Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea: this shall be your land with the coasts thereof round about.
13. And Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying, This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot, which the LORD commanded to give unto the nine tribes, and to the half tribe:
14. For the tribe of the children of Reuben according to the house of their fathers, and the tribe of the children of Gad according to the house of their fathers, have received their inheritance; and half the tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance:
15. The two tribes and the half tribe have received their inheritance on this side Jordan near Jericho eastward, toward the sunrising.

Keil and Delitzsch present some six or seven pages of analysis of the exact details, comparing the account with that found in Joshua, and drawing careful conclusions useful for the historian or archaeologist, concerning the geography of the land, and the exact boundary lines and locations of the various neighbouring peoples and their lands as well.

Here we are reading of real points on a physical map of the Land of Canaan, now to be assigned by The Almighty to His people, which hold a great deal of historic interest in their own right, but we might also, at the same time, view the exactitude of the surveyed boundary lines with the eye of the Spirit, to bring to our understanding that each of us is to possess in its entirety that portion of promise which is our inheritance. However we must act in a manner consistent with that inheritance, for without dispossessing the present inhabitants, we will never inherit it even though we enter the area, but rather, in willing weakness, we will simply become subject to their wiles and demands. An inheritance presently in the hands of those who do not properly own that inheritance will yet remain in their control unless and until wrested from such by legal intervention in the power and authority of The Almighty in Whose ultimate control everything exists.

This can likewise be extended on various levels to our own present conditions and concerns. Perhaps the situation somewhat resembles the occasions when the people heard the parables which Our Lord spoke to the inhabitants of the land in the days of His First Advent, for he used veiled language in respect of certain truths which reserved and yielded extra depth of meaning and intent when heard by His Own disciples, particularly after His private words to them, while the masses of the people, who also heard what He spoke, listened with some superficial interest to the stories which related real life experiences to themselves, but with less ability to understand the true depth of meaning in what they were hearing. Matthew 13:13-16 says:

13. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
14. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.
15. For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
16. But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

Let us now continue with the next words of our study passage for today:

16. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
17. These are the names of the men which shall divide the land unto you: Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun.
18. And ye shall take one prince of every tribe, to divide the land by inheritance.
19. And the names of the men are these: Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
20. And of the tribe of the children of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Ammihud.
21. Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon.
22. And the prince of the tribe of the children of Dan, Bukki the son of Jogli.
23. The prince of the children of Joseph, for the tribe of the children of Manasseh, Hanniel the son of Ephod.
24. And the prince of the tribe of the children of Ephraim, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan.
25. And the prince of the tribe of the children of Zebulun, Elizaphan the son of Parnach.
26. And the prince of the tribe of the children of Issachar, Paltiel the son of Azzan.
27. And the prince of the tribe of the children of Asher, Ahihud the son of Shelomi.
28. And the prince of the tribe of the children of Naphtali, Pedahel the son of Ammihud.
29. These are they whom the LORD commanded to divide the inheritance unto the children of Israel in the land of Canaan.

There is little to comment upon the list, except to say that it does not include Reuben or Gad, because, as we have already learned, those two tribes were granted their portions in the lands lying east of the Jordan River, while the Tribe of Manasseh is represented as half of it was to reside to the east of the Jordan, and the other half with those Tribes now listed, to the west of the Jordan River.

23 January, 2000


By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our normal sequence of Bible Studies began a number of years ago with the Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, to leave his home and to go out to a land which God would in after centuries give to his descendants. These descendants of Abraham, starting with the Patriarchs Isaac, Jacob (renamed Israel), and Jacob's twelve sons who became tribal leaders, went into Egypt under the care of Joseph, but their descendants later came under Egyptian bondage from which they were miraculously rescued in what we know as The Exodus.

Our latest studies have considered the words of Numbers 33, a passage which reviewed the stopping places for the camp of Israel in Sinai as they emerged out of that bondage experience in Egypt under the care and protection of The Almighty God, and with the human direction of Moses who was commissioned to convey God's word to the Tribes of Israel.

In Numbers 34, we read of the boundaries which are to designate the tribal portions in the Promised Land, which is presently inhabited by the Canaanites whose forms of idolatry would become a deadly threat to Israel, should they remain as the dominant population during the onset of Israel's occupancy of that land. Our sequence of Bible Studies has now brought us to that Scripture which is found in Numbers 35, which deals with the particular forthcoming assignment of cities and towns in which the Levites, who had no separate allotment in the Promised Land would dwell, and in which they would perform their particular service to all the other tribes of Israel.

Let us read the first eight verses of Numbers 35, after which we will see what some of the Commentaries have to tell us about the passage.

1. And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,
2. Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them.
3. And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts.
4. And the suburbs of the cities, which ye shall give unto the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about.

The Companion Bible here draws attention (in verse 2) to the sequence "Jehovah gives to the Nation; the Nation gives to the Levites.", and (in verse 3), "suburbs = pasture grounds." At verse 4, a note refers us to Appendix 51, III (Measures), 2 (Length), but the reference is limited to the comment that the length of the cubit is "still in dispute", one cubit ranging "between 21 and 25 inches." However other references yield the information that the common cubit was less: The New Bible Dictionary, item "Weights and Measures" gives us "one foot and six inches", and the Nelson's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts gives it as about "17.5 inches."

5. And ye shall measure from without 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; and the city shall be in the midst: this shall be to them the suburbs of the cities.
6. And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither: and to them ye shall add forty and two cities.
7. So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities: them shall ye give with their suburbs.
8. And the cities which ye shall give shall be of the possession of the children of Israel: from them that have many ye shall give many; but from them that have few ye shall give few: every one shall give of his cities unto the Levites according to his inheritance which he inheriteth.

The New Bible Commentary provides a surprisingly scant comment upon this passage. It simply notes "The tribe of Levi is not to receive a separte area but its members are to be assigned forty-eight cities, scattered through the territory of all the other tribes. The carrying out of this provision is described in Jos. 21."

However, under the heading "Chap. xxxv. 1-8. Appointment of Towns for the Levites", Keil and Delitzsch comment on those first eight verses as follows: "As the Levites were to receive no inheritance of their own, i.e. no separate tribe-territory, in the land of Canaan (chap. xviii. 20 and 23), Moses commanded the children of Israel, i.e. the rest of the tribes, in accordance with the divine instructions, to give (vacate) towns to the Levites to dwell in of the inheritance that fell to them for a possession with pasturage by the cities round about them for their cattle. 'Towns to dwell in,' i.e. not the whole of the towns as their own property, but as many houses in the towns as sufficed for the necessities of the Levites as their hereditary possession, which could be redeemed, if sold at any time, and which reverted to them without compensation in the year of jubilee, even if not redeemed before (Lev. xxv. 32, 33); but any portion of the towns which was not taken possession of by them, together with the fields and villages, continued the property of those tribes to which they had been assigned by lot (cf. Josh. xxi. 12 ...). They were also to give them ... pasturage or fields, to feed their flocks upon, all round the cities; and according to Lev. xxv. 34, this was not to be sold, but to remain the eternal possession of the Levites."

Keil and Delitzsch then examine the Hebrew words which refer to the oxen and beasts of burden belonging to the Levites, and their remaining possessions in flocks (of sheep and goats). Turning to the surveying of those pastures, they continue "The pasture lands of the different towns were to measure 'from the town wall outwards a thousand cubits round about,' i.e. on each of the four sides. 'And measure from without the city, the east side 2000 cubits, and the south side 2000 cubits, and the west side 2000 cubits, and the north side 2000 cubits, and the city in the middle,' i.e. so that the town stood in the middle of the measured lines, and the space which they occupied was not included in the 2000 cubits." They proceed to explain the matter thus: "We must picture the towns and the surrounding fields as squares, the pasturage as stretching 1000 cubits from the city wall in every direction, ... and the length of each outer side as 2000 cubits, apart from the length of the city wall: so that, if the town itself occupied a square of 1000 cubits the outer side of the town fields would measure 2000 plus 1000 cubits in every direction; but if each side of the city wall was only 500 cubits long, ... the outer side of the town fields would measure 2000 plus 500 cubits in every direction." Keil and Delitzsch provide two diagrams which demonstrate geometrical layouts of these two examples, which fit the verbal descriptions.

The commentary continues: "Vers. 6-8. Of these cities which were given up to the Levites, six were to serve as cities of refuge (see at ver 12) for manslayers, and in addition to these (... over upon them) the Israelites were to give of their possessions forty-two others, that is to say, forty-eight in all; and they were to do this giving much from every tribe that had much and little from the one which had little (chap. xxvi. 54)." After a digression into the meaning of certain Hebrew terms, they continue: "According to Josh. xxi., the Levites received nine cities in the territory of Judah and Simeon, four in the territory of each of the other tribes, with the exception of Naphtali, in which there were only three, that is to say, ten in the land to the east of the Jordan, and thirty-eight in Canaan proper, of which the thirteen given up by Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin were assigned to the families of the priests, and the other thirty-five to the three Levitical families. This distribution of the Levites among all the tribes - by which the curse of division and dispersion in Israel, which had been pronounced upon Levi in Jacob's blessing (Gen. xlix. 7), was changed into a blessing both for the Levites themselves and also for all Israel - was in perfect accordance with the election and destination of this tribe." Here, Keil and Delitzsch, using the Greek term which translates as "a picking out, choice, election, or a choice selection", they continue "Called out of the whole nation to be the peculiar possession of Jehovah, to watch over His covenant, and teach Israel his rights and His law (Deut. xxxiii. 9, 10; Lev. x. 11; Deut. xxxi. 9-13) the Levites were to form and set forth among all the tribes the (choice selection) of the nation of Jehovah's possession, and by their walk as well as by their calling to remind the Israelites continually of their own divine calling; to foster and preserve the law and testimony of the Lord in Israel, and to awaken and spread the fear of God and piety among all the tribes. Whilst their distribution among all the tribes corresponded to this appointment, the fact that they were not scattered in all the towns and villages of the other tribes, but were congregated together in separate towns among the different tribes, preserved them from the disadvantages of standing alone, and defended them from the danger of moral and spiritual declension. Lastly, in the number forty-eight, the quadrupling of the number of the tribes (twelve) is unmistakeable. Now, as the number four is the seal of the kingdom of God in the world, the idea of the kingdom of God is also represented in the four times twelve towns... ."

We shall pick up this study in Part II, on our next programme starting with verse 9 of our present chapter.

30 January, 2000


By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began a number of years ago with the Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, in Genesis 12, has taken us through the sequence of subsequent Biblical passages which relate the family history of the generations of the Patriarchs and tribes of his progeny as they entered Egypt, and later emerged into Sinai through the miracles of The Exodus, heading eventually towards their Promised Land under the guidance of Moses and the direction of The Almighty God.

We had most recently been studying the passages found in Numbers 34 and 35, which tell us of the plans for the forthcoming occupancy of that Promised Land, and the expulsion therefrom of the Canaanite peoples whose idolatry was totally incompatible with service to Yahweh, Jehovah, the God Who had, in effect, made a covenant of marriage with the Nation of Israel at Mount Sinai.

We had arrived at Numbers 35:9, which begins a passage which outlines a significant provision of certain "cities of refuge" inhabited by Levites, within the tribal nation as it settles the new portions to be assigned to each tribe. We are reading Numbers 35:9-15:

9. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
10. Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan;
11. Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares.
12. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.
13. And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge.
14. Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.
15. These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.

The New Bible Commentary gives only a brief comment on this Scripture portion. It states, under the heading "e. The order to set aside cities of refuge (xxxv. 9-34)" that "This is the fullest description of the regulations concerning the cities of refuge - regulations designed to prevent the starting of blood feuds, but so guarded that they would not in any way protect a real murderer. Briefer descriptions of their purpose are contained in Moses' farewell address in Dt. xix. 1-13, and also in connection with the designation of the three cities west of the Jordan (Jos. xx). The three cities east of the Jordan were set aside by Moses before his death (Dt. iv. 41-43)."

Keil and Delitzsch give greater attention to the matters here covered. In fact, they present the reader with the best part of seven pages of study on the subject. Under the heading "Vers. 9-34. Selection and Appointment of Cities of Refuge for unpremeditated Manslayers" they begin by noting on verses 10-11 "When the Israelites had come into the land of Canaan, they were to choose towns conveniently situated as cities of refuge, to which the manslayer, who had slain a person ... by accident ... might flee." They comment on the Hebrew terms, which show that the meaning is "to choose something suitable", but not "to build or complete." They continue "Through these directions, which are repeated and still further expanded in Deut. xix. 1-13, God fulfilled the promise which He gave in Ex. xxi. 13; that He would appoint a place for the man who should unintentionally slay his neighbour, to which he might flee from the avenger of blood. - Vers. 12-15. These towns were to serve for a refuge from the avenger of blood, that the manslayer might not die before he had taken his trial in the presence of the congregation. The number of cities was fixed at six, three on the other side of the Jordan, and three on this side in the land of Canaan, to which both the children of Israel, and also the foreigners and settlers who were dwelling among them, might flee. In Deut. xix. 3 ssq., Moses advises the congregation to prepare ... the way to these cities, and to divide the territory of the land which Jehovah would give them into three parts ... i.e. to set apart a free city in every third of the land, that every manslayer might flee thither, i.e. might be able to reach the free city without being detained by length of distance of badness of road, lest, as is added in ver. 6, the avenger of blood pursue the slayer while his heart is hot ... and overtake him because the way is long, and slay him ... whereas he was not worthy of death (i.e. there was no just ground for putting him to death), 'because he had not done it out of hatred.' The three cities on the other side were selected by Moses himself (Deut. iv. 41-43); the three in Canaan were not appointed till the land was distributed among the nine tribes and a half (Josh. xx. 7). Levitical or priests' towns were selected for all six, not only because it was to the priests and Levites that they would first of all look for an administration of justice ... , but also on the ground that those cities were the property of Jehovah, in a higher sense than the rest of the land, and for this reason answered the idea of cities of refuge, where the manslayer, when once received, was placed under the protection of divine grace, better than any other places possibly could."

They continue: "The establishment of cities of refuge presupposed the custom and right of revenge. The custom itself goes back to the very earliest times of the human race (Gen. iv. 15, 24, xxvii. 45); it prevailed among the Israelites, as well as the other nations of antiquity, and still continues. ... ." The Commentary further states "Revenge of blood prevailed almost everywhere, so long as there was no national life generated, or it was still in the first stages of its development; and consequently the expiation of any personal violation of justice was left to private revenge, and more especially to family zeal. ... The warrant for this was the principle of retribution, the jus talionis, which lay at the foundation of the divine order of the world in general, and the Mosaic law in particular, and which was sanctioned by God, so far as murder was concerned, even in the time of Noah, by the command, 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood,': etc. (Gen. ix. 5, 6). This warrant, however, or rather obligation to avenge murder, was subordinated to the essential principle of the theocracy, under the Mosaic law. Whilst God himself would avenge the blood that was shed, not only upon men, but upon animals also (Gen. ix. 5), and commanded blood-revenge, He withdrew the execution of it from subjective caprice, and restricted it to cases of premeditated slaying or murder, by appointing cities of refuge, which were to protect the manslayer from the avenger, until he took his trial before the congregation."

They explain that the Hebrew word for redeemer is "that particular relative whose special duty it was to restore the violated family integrity, who had to redeem not only landed property that had been alienated from the family (Lev. xxv. 25 sqq.), or a member of the family that had fallen into slavery (Lev. xxv. 47 sqq.), but also the blood that had been taken away from the family by murder." They continue: "From 2 Sa. xiv. 7, we may see that it was the duty of the whole family to take care that blood-revenge was carried out. The performance of the duty itself, however, was probably regulated by the closeness of the relationship, and corresponded to the duty of redeeming from bondage (Lev. xxv. 49), and to the right of inheritance (chap. xxvii. 8 sqq.). What standing before the congregation was to consist of, is defined more fully in what follows (vers. 24-25). If we compare with this Josh. xx. 4 sqq., the manslayer, who fled from the avenger of blood into a free city, was to stand before the gates of the city, and state his cause before the elders. They were then to receive him into the city, and give him a place that he might dwell among them, and were not to deliver him up to the avenger of blood till he had stood before the congregation for judgment. Consequently, if the slayer of a man presented himself with the request to be received, the elders of the free city had to make a provisional inquiry into his case, to decide whether they should grant him protection in the city; and then if the avenger of blood appeared, they were not to deliver up the person whom they had received, but to hand him over, on the charge of the avenger of blood, to the congregation to whom he belonged, or among whom the act had taken place, that they might investigate the case, and judge whether the deed itself was wilful or accidental."

We shall continue in the next Study with more particular attention to verses 16 and following, in Part III of this topic.