“And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, 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. 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.
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. 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.” (Numbers 35:1-5)
The Levites were to have no separate country of their own,, but each tribe was to give certain cities to the Levites. Around each of the Levite cities was to be an area of farm and grazing land reaching about three thousand feet or a little over a half mile beyond the wall of the city. The inner fifteen hundred feet was especially for the fields and gardens with the outer fifteen hundred especially for their livestock. Even the smallest city would thus entail and area of about a thousand acres.
“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. So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities: them shall ye give with their suburbs.
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.” (Numbers 35:6-8)
Forty eight cities were to be given to the Levites, although they were not evenly dispersed, with larger tribes having more than smaller tribes. Six of the cities were to be cities of refuge where a person guilty of manslaughter could go for protection.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan; 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. And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge.
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. 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.” (Numbers 35:9-15)
In Genesis 9:6, immediately after the flood, God commanded, “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Because man was created in the image o God, murder implies we have assumed God’s right to destroy anything including God himself. An Avenger of Blood was responsible to see that they did not get by with it or repeat it. God has never changed that standard.
Because it is possible to accidentally kill a person, provision was made for such and event. Three cities of refuge were established on each side of the Jordan, where they would be readily accessible. Anyone who had caused the death of another person could flee to one of the cities and be protected from the avenger of blood until a hearing was held. Precise instructions were given for determining whether a case was murder of manslaughter.
“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. 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. 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. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die; 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.” (Numbers 35:16-21)
Any indication of premeditation, such as the deliberate use of a deadly weapon or object, or of deliberate attack was evidence of murder. If it was determined that murder was involved, the guilty party was to be delivered to the revenger of blood for execution. It was a mandatory sentence.
“But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait, 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: Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments: 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.” (Numbers 35:22-25)
A suddenly provoked attack or with no prior conflict, or accidentally hitting someone one who had not been seen was to be considered manslaughter, and the Guilty person was to be allowed to remain under protection in the city of refuge as long as the current high priest lived. It was essentially a life sentence.
“But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; 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: 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.” (Numbers 35:26-28)
If at anytime the guilty party was found outside the boundaries of the city of refuge, the revenger of blood was authorized to execute him. It was up to the guilty to serve out his sentence and supply his own food. His family were free to join him in the city of refuge if they chose to do so.
“So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 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. “ (Numbers 35:29-30)
These penalties were to be applied to anyone who kills someone, regardless of his position of that of the victim. To minimize miscarriages of Justice, a conviction could not be obtained with the testimony of a single witness or solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
“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. 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.” (Numbers 35:31-32)
No plea bargains or alternative penalties were to be allowed. The victim would not receive another chance, and his killer should not either. In cases of manslaughter, the guilty was free to return to his property when the High Priest at the time of his crime died.
“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. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel.” (Numbers 35:33-34)
Anything less than the execution of the killer could not make up for the killing. The very land would be polluted if the killer went free, and God would eventually judge the land. God judged the Canaanite nations for such pollution, and I believe many of the problems in modern countries are the result of allowing such pollution of the land. When we refuse to execute murderers, we effectively approve their crimes, and bring judgment on ourselves.