- Forty eight cities assigned to the Levites, of which six were cities of refuge, verse 1-15.
- In what cases it was not allowed to flee to these, verse 16-21.
- In what cases it was allowed, verse 22-24.
- Laws concerning them, verse 25-34.
For the cattle - For pasturage for their cattle: where they might not build houses, nor plant gardens, orchards or vineyards, no nor sow corn, for which they were abundantly provided out of the first-fruits. And these suburbs did not belong to the Levites in common, but were distributed to them in convenient proportions.
A thousand cubits - In the next verse it is two thousand. But this verse and the next do not speak to the same thing; this speaks of the space from whence the suburbs shall be measured, the next speaks of the space unto which that measure shall be extended; and the words may very well be read thus. And the suburbs - Shall be from the wall of the city and from without it, or, from the outward parts of it, even from a thousand cubits round about. Which are mentioned not as the thing measured, but as the space from which the measuring line should begin. And then it follows, Numbers 35:5. And ye shall measure from without the city, (not from the wall of the city, as said before Numbers 35:4, but from without it, that is, from the said outward space of a thousand cubits without the wall of the city round about) on the east side two thousand cubits. So in truth there were three thousand cubits from the wall of the city, whereof one thousand probably were for out-houses, stalls for cattle, gardens, vineyards and olive-yards, and the other two thousand for pasture, which are therefore called the field of the suburbs, Leviticus 25:34, by way of distinction from the suburbs themselves, which consist of the first thousand cubits from the wall of the city.
Cities for refuge - Or, of escape for manslayers: And these cities are assigned among the Levites, partly because they might be presumed to be the most proper and impartial judges between man-slayers, and wilful murderers; partly because their presence and authority would more effectually bridle the passions of the avenger of blood who might pursue him thither; and perhaps to signify, that it is only in Christ (whom the Levitical priests represented) that sinners find refuge and safety from the destroyer.
Unawares - Not wilfully, designedly or maliciously, but through mistake or indiscretion.
From the avenger - Heb. from the redeemer, or, from the next kinsman, to whom by the law belonged the right of redemption of the lands of; and vindication of the injury done to, the person deceased. Die not - Be not killed by the avenger meeting him in some other place. Before the congregation - Before the judges or elders who were appointed in every city for the decision of criminal causes, who were to examine, and that publickly before the people, whether the murder was wilful or casual.
On this side Jordan - Because that land was as long as Canaan, though not so broad, and besides these might be convenient for many of them that lived in Canaan.
If he smite him - Wittingly and wilfully, though not with premeditated malice. He shall be put to death - Yea though he were fled into the city of refuge.
He shall slay him - Either by himself, as the following words shew; so it is a permission, that he may do it without offence to God or danger to himself: or by the magistrate, from whom he shall demand justice: so it is a command.
Then - If the man-slayer flee to to the city of refuge.
He shall abide in it - Be confined to it, partly to shew the hatefulness of murder in God's account by so severe a punishment, inflicted upon the very appearance of it, and partly for the security of the man-slayer, lest the presence of such a person, and his conversation among the kindred of the deceased, might occasion reproach and blood-shed. The death of the high-priest - Perhaps to shew that the death of Christ (the true High-priest, whom the others represented) is the only means whereby sins are pardoned and sinners set at liberty.
Not guilty - Not liable to punishment from men, though not free of guilt before God. This God ordained to oblige the man-slayer to abide in his city of refuge.