Numbers Chapter 35

As the Israelites were in their final moments of preparation for entering the land of promise, the Lord commanded Moses of several things he was to say to the people. They had reminders of the offerings and sacrifices they were to remember when they settled the land. They had also been given instruction on where the borders of the land were to be, and who would be responsible for dividing the land. As the tribe responsible for the tabernacle and its purposes, the Levites had already been told they would not receive an inheritance as the rest of the tribes of Israel. In this chapter, the Lord begins by giving instruction for what should be done for the Levites.

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.
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 Levites were to receive a portion of the land inherited by the other tribes. There they would have 48 cities. They were to have six cities, which were to be designated as a refuge for those who were guilty of manslaughter. This was a place for those who had not meant to kill, but had done so, to have a place to live. The remaining 42 cities were for the Levites to live in, with the fields and such surrounding them. The larger tribes, with the larger inheritance, were to give more cities than the smaller tribes with the smaller inheritance.

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.

Moses was to tell the people that the six cities were for those, Israelite or stranger, who unknowingly killed another. These were refuge places where those who might seek revenge, would not be able to get to them. They would be able to live until the day they receive judgment for what they had done. Three of these cities were to be located on the eastern side of the Jordan, where the first inheritances had already been given, and three were to be in Canaan.

16 And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
17 And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
18 Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
19 The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
20 But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die;
21 Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.
22 But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait,
23 Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm:
24 Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:
25 And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil.
26 But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled;
27 And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood:
28 Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession.

If someone killed with an actual weapon of iron, this was to be seen as murder. If someone killed another by stoning, I am assuming without the proper right to do so, this was also murder. If one killed with a wooden weapon intended to kill, it was murder. All these murderers were to be put to death, at the hand of one who would be considered the revenger of blood. If the revenger, did so by plotting and seeking out their revenge, they would have committed murder as well, and were to be put to death. There was a proper way that the capital punishment, of that day, was to be performed. Anything else, was also considered murder.

In the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 9, we read the following:

12 And whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for man shall not shed the blood of man.
13 For a commandment I give, that every man’s brother shall preserve the life of man, for in mine own image have I made man.

The Lord had commanded men that those who killed were to be put to death, from very early in the history of the world. This, it seems, was so that all men would realize the value that the Lord has had for the life of man. The final judgement for any who deliberately killed another, is up to God, and the Israelites were not given the authority change the consequences of that action. If, however, a killing occurred, without the intent to kill, the person was not called a murderer and was to be allowed refuge in one of the cities where any revenger would not be able to harm them. Those guilty of manslaughter, were able to live in the city of refuge until the current high priest died. This was for their safety, but was also like a type of prison for the day. If they left the city of refuge, they were at their own risk of being killed by anyone who wanted revenge. If they were killed out of revenge at this point, the murderer would not be found guilty. When the high priest had died, the person guilty of manslaughter was allowed to return to his home.

29 So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
30 Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.
31 Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death.
32 And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest.
33 So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.
34 Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.

A person could be claimed guilty, by the words of more than one witness. The rest of the Israelites, were not to take a ransom for anyone who had intentionally killed another, but were to put them to death. They were not to allow someone guilty of manslaughter, to live in their own land of inheritance, but were to make sure they went into the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. Only those who committed the crimes, could be held responsible for them, and could keep the land unpolluted by receiving the proper punishment and making their own atonement for that blood. The land was to remain clean, so that the spirit of the Lord could dwell among them. Otherwise, destruction would come upon them, as it had those who lived in the land prior to them.

The commandment not to kill, has been established and of importance since the days of Adam and Eve. It remains a commandment today and should not be taken lightly. I think that from this chapter, we can learn the purpose of a capital punishment for murder, and that there is a point to it. Also, because accidents occur, it was important for the Lord to establish a set of conditions for those who never meant to kill. These instructions and commandments, were to help those who had killed another, to receive the proper consequence in life, and to leave the real and final judgement to the Lord. It is good for us to have and live by the Lord’s laws and consequences established for us in our own day, because through them we find safety and can also remain worthy of the spirit of the Lord among us.

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