NUMBERS 35: 11, 12
Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
Question: Please explain Numbers 35: 11, 12.
Answer: Numbers 35: 11, 12: “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. 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.”
During the period of the Law Covenant, God impressed upon the people of Israel the principle of
just retribution for sin. During that time it was commanded that if a man shed blood, by man
should his blood be shed (Exodus 21: 12) (Leviticus 24: 13-20) (Numbers 35: 9-33). In fact, this
rule held good from the days of Noah (Genesis 9: 6). Under the Jewish law, every Jew was an
avenger of God, to render just punishment for any crime. If they saw their neighbor do a wrong,
they were to help adjust the wrong. The Jewish law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”
was held with special strictness in respect to a life for a life.
But the Lord also made the arrangement of cities of refuge (Numbers 35: 9-34)
(Deuteronomy 4: 41-43; 19: 1-9). Six Levite cities scattered throughout Palestine were
designated as refuges. These cities manifested the principle of tempering justice with mercy.
They were not established to protect willful murderers, but for those who unintentionally,
through error or accident took the life of another. Anyone believing himself to be free from
malice, willful, intentional murder, might flee to one of these cities and there be protected from
the full demands of the law against his life.
When the offender arrived at the city of refuge, he was not free, but was obliged to stand trial
before the elders of the city representing the congregation of Israel. He was protected until such
time as a careful trial could take place. If he were found guilty of deliberate murder, intentional,
premeditated, the city of refuge did not save him from the death penalty; and if he were acquitted
of any malice, he was nevertheless obliged to remain in the city of refuge or within its suburbs of
one thousand cubits beyond the walls (Numbers 35: 26, 28), for the remainder of his life, or until
the death of the high priest.
There is also an antitypical significance of these cities of refuge. From the moment that we
recognized that we are sinners, we realized that a death sentence rests upon each one of us. The
avenger, Justice, is upon our trail, and it is only a question of time when we will be overtaken
and destroyed unless we reach some place of refuge. But as we flee, God points us to Christ as
the only place of refuge, and to Him we have to flee. He is not, however, a place of refuge from
willful and intentional sin, but a refuge to cover our weaknesses and ignorance resulting from the
fall. But if we leave the city of refuge, if we abandon our trust in the precious blood of Christ,
we become liable again to the demand of justice and that without mercy.