Numbers 35

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Read Numbers 35

Towns for the Levites

35 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelandsaround the towns. Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.

“The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits from the town wall. Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits 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

“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. In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. 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.”

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 die21 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.’”

Go Deeper

Chapter 35 begins with God providing land for the Levites to live in and cultivate. The Levites will not inherit land, like the other tribes, because God will provide for all of their needs through the tithes that the Israelites present as offerings to the Lord. This includes even the land that they will live on.  God instructs the tribes to give, as an offering, land out of their inherited portion to be used by the Levites.  

After God provides land for the Levites, He outlines how this land is to be used. Of the forty-eight towns provided for the Levites, six of them are to be cities of refuge. These are safe places for people to go if they have accidentally killed someone (a manslayer). This is because in ancient Israelite culture, the practice of avenging blood, or vengeance killing, was commonplace in order to redeem the blood of a slain family member and to restore justice to their family. The person responsible for carrying out the vengeance was typically the nearest male relative of the murdered person and is referred to as the avenger of blood.  

However, avenging blood was only allowed when the murder was intentional in order to redeem the wrong or sin committed against a member of their family. The cities of refuge were given specifically as a safe place for those who accidentally killed another person in order to ensure that they received a fair trial and were not killed by an avenger of blood in an instance that was not justified. If it was determined that a killing was accidental, the guilty party could not be killed by the avenger of blood, but was forced to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the current high priest.  

In The Bible Recap, Tara-Leigh Cobble states that “the premise behind this law is that only death can atone for sin and death, even accidental sin or death, and since the manslayer won’t be put to death, the high priest’s death is viewed as atonement for the wrongful death that happened on his watch.” If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.  

All of us have committed sin against God and are worthy of death (Romans 6:23), but God has provided our ultimate High Priest and Savior to die on our behalf so that we may walk in freedom from the vengeance from our sin that we truly deserve. 


  1. Do you consider the fact that your sin against God is worthy of death?
  2. What can you do today to remind yourself of the freedom that God has given you from the penalty of your sins?
  3. How has the gift of freedom from death changed the way that you live your life?

Keep Digging

Read this article from with more information about avengers of blood.

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3 thoughts on “Numbers 35”

  1. God specifically instructs Moses on provisions for the Levites and cities of refuge. After a chapter of detailed instructions, God’s “why” is revealed in the closing verse, “Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.” If we have accepted the perfect sacrifice of Christ as atonement for our sins, then he dwells with us. Psalm 139 reminds us, “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” His love and presence is inescapable. Wherever we are headed, he’s already there. Whether it be in the valleys or the mountain tops, the victories or defeats, he can be found. This song by Shane & Shane offers sweet comfort to me.

  2. You were born for such a time as this. Ester 4:14, Ester was born for such a time and she was scared and reluctant but obeyed God to save her people. We have been born to do God’s will in this time. In Numbers, God has given provision for the Israelites. He has thought of everything, completely. In this day, we now have an actual easier road. Jesus paid it all for us. (Insert a WOOHOO!!!!) We have to believe and act accordingly. Do I? Well, no, but my goal is to learn, listen, read, pray, study and lean in so that I am better equipped to be more faithful in helping with the kingdom at hand. The way I say “thank you” to God is using my life, at this moment and time do His will, to be a voice of helping others to see, believe and know Jesus.

    God thank You for opening the eyes of my understanding to all You want ,need and desire for me to do here, now and in these minutes of this day. God help my fear of speaking You. As I type those words I am overcome with shame. How can I ever be fearful of speaking about You? That is craziness. I love You Lord, please forgive me. My sufficient is in You. I depend on You minutely and have to renew my mind to You. I believe You have seated me in the Heavenly places because I am in Christ Jesus. God help me to live that out this day in Jesus name amen.

  3. Yes, Amen. Thank you!

    12 ”The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment.“

    I may not have committed murder nor manslaughter, but I’ve been a “manslayer” of reputations with my words of disrespect and my thoughts of disdain.

    Thank you, God for the city of refuge to which I can flee and repent from my “manslaying” ways.

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