Introduction: In the last chapters of Numbers we see that God is truly
bringing His people into Canaan. Numbers chapter 33 contains the
historical record of the journey from Egypt to Canaan. The journey now
enters the history books and is no longer part of every day life. In
Numbers chapter 34 we read what God set as the new boundaries for
Israel. In Numbers chapter 35 God describes a system of justice,
including the location of jails! Would you like a jail built in your
back yard? Did you know that Israel had jails? Did you know that the
ministers got to live with those accused of murder? Let’s dive into
our study of the Bible and find out more!

  1. Ministers and Murderers

    1. Read Numbers 35:1-3. What did we previously learn about the
      Levites? (The Levites were faithful to God when the rest of
      the Israelites were worshiping the golden calf at Mount
      Sinai. As a result, God put them in charge of the tabernacle
      and ministering to the community.)

      1. If the Levites are the “good guys,” why did they get
        towns instead of sections of land? (Their pay
        (inheritance), according to Numbers 18:24, was to
        receive the tithes of the people and not any of the

    2. Read Numbers 35:4-5. Why did they need limited pastureland?
      (Because the tithe included animals. So, they would have
      them for a limited amount of time before they ate them.)

      1. Why are the ministers not vegetarians? If that is the
        healthiest diet, and God has set up the system, why
        not have them eat only vegetables? (Since the animal
        sacrifice was to remind them of Jesus, it was not very
        practical for them to be vegetarians. Practical
        considerations trumped health considerations.)

    3. Read Numbers 35:6-8. The Levites get to live with people who
      have killed someone and they get to live among the rest of
      the tribes. Why do you think God planned it that way? Are
      there lessons here for modern ministers? (Someone who
      murdered or was accused of murder would be in the greatest
      need of spiritual advice. With regard to the non-lethal
      part of the population, the Levites were not to live in a
      colony separated from them. Instead, their towns were to be
      distributed throughout Israel. Ministers need to be among
      the people.)

    4. Read Numbers 35:9-11. Are these “cities of refuge” where all
      murders live (along with the Levites and their families)?
      (No. They are for those who “killed someone accidentally.”)

    5. What do you consider to be an accidental killing? Would it
      include someone who was negligent? Someone who drove 50
      miles an hour through a school zone while reading a text
      message on their cell phone? (Read Deuteronomy 19:4-6. The
      key is a lack of “malice aforethought.” The killing was

      1. Was negligence involved in the ax death? Would a
        reasonable person would check the tightness of the ax
        head before swinging it around with others present?
        (That is the issue in negligence. If the answer is
        “yes, a reasonable person would check,” the ax handler
        is negligent. If the answer is “no,” the death is
        purely accidental. In either event the person is
        eligible for a city of refuge.)

    6. Read Numbers 35:12. Were the cities of refuge jails? Where
      they places where those accused of murder lived permanently?
      (If you look back at Deuteronomy 19:6 it refers to the
      avenger of blood pursuing the killer “in rage.” These cities
      allowed tempers to cool down without anyone being killed in
      the meantime.)

      1. Who is the “avenger,” and what does the avenger have
        to do with the city of refuge? (Read Genesis 9:5-6.
        The avenger was most likely a family member of the
        deceased who was following the Genesis statement about
        shedding the blood of someone who has shed the blood
        of another.)

    7. Look again at Numbers 35:12. How do you think this system of
      justice worked? (The city of refuge was not only a place for
      tempers to cool down, it was a place for those in authority
      sort out the intentional murders from those who accidentally
      or negligently killed someone. The avenger was not to kill
      the accused before things had been sorted out by a trial.)

    8. Read Numbers 35:13-15. Who is eligible to take advantage of
      a city of refuge? (Anyone. You might think an alien was not
      protected by Hebrew law. Those were the people most likely
      to suffer from an angry mob. God indicates that all are
      entitled to a fair trial.)

      1. What does the placement of the cities suggest? (They
        were equally available to all.)

  2. God’s Jurisprudence

    1. Read Numbers 35:16-18. We just learned that “malice
      aforethought” is the key to separating those guilty of
      murder from those guilty of an accident. Have we now
      changed the rules? What does iron, stone or wood have to do
      with malice? (Striking someone with a deadly weapon in your
      hand reveals what is in your mind.)

    2. Read Numbers 35:20-21. Now we are back to malice
      aforethought. Is intentionally throwing something at someone
      the same as malice aforethought? How about a hostile punch?
      (Normally, malice aforethought means you planned to do
      someone harm. I think the hostile punch and intentional hurl
      broaden the definition of murder a little bit. It seems to
      include bouts of anger.)

    3. Read Numbers 35:22-23. Are these examples negligence or
      malic aforethought? What do you think is the key difference?
      (“Intent to harm.”)

      1. Let’s assume you are on a jury and the last few verses
        are jury instructions. Are they clear enough to you?

      2. Would you feel confident to judge a murder case? (I
        think God’s instructions are very clear.)

      3. How similar are the laws in your country? (I have not
        been involved in criminal law for over thirty years,
        but these rules seem to reflect the common law murder
        rules in the United States. However, our “felony-murder” rules and “co-conspirator” rules cast a
        broader net than God’s law.)

    4. What happens to those who negligently or accidentally kill
      someone? Are they free to go? (These people are described in
      Numbers 35:22-24, which we have just read. Let’s read on:
      Numbers 35:25-28. What kind of sentence is this?

      1. Do you think this is fair? (The punishment fits the
        “crime.” By accident or negligence a person has lost
        their life. The punishment is a limit on the killer’s
        life measured by chance – how long will the High
        Priest live? It seems chance is involved on both
        sides: the death and the punishment.)

        1. How does this compare to the law of your country?
          (If a death is pure accident, we do not punish
          the killer at all.)

    5. We have discussed the rule of law, what are the proof
      requirements for murder? Let’s read Numbers 35:30. Under
      this standard can a murderer be put to death based on a
      confession while in police custody? (No. One witness is not
      sufficient. God has a rule against self-incrimination.)

      1. How many witnesses are required? (Read Deuteronomy
        17:6-7. Two or three.)

        1. Is this like saying “I’ll sell you my car for
          $5,000-$6,000” and that means the price is

        2. What effect does the “witnesses stone first” rule
          have on witness testimony? (This suggests that
          you need to have at least two strong witnesses.
          Someone who is unsure is not going to want to be
          part of the killing. If you have two weak
          witnesses, that is not enough.)

        3. Does this mean that under God’s rule some murders
          will go free?

    6. Read Numbers 35:31-32. Do rich people operate under
      different rules of justice in God’s system? (No. You cannot
      pay money to change the sentence.)

    7. Read Numbers 35:33-34. What is the reason for these rules?
      (They live in the presence of God.)

  3. God Shining Through

    1. What do these rules on killing, and specifically the last
      texts we read, teach us about our God? (He is a God of
      justice who protects life. We see this in the one rule of
      law for all and the fair trial through the cities of refuge

    2. How can God’s “lamb-substitute” system, His “Jesus-substitute” plan of salvation fit into a rule of law that
      both prohibits ransom ( Judges 35:31) and requires atonement
      through the death of the sinner ( Judges 35:33)? (Two things.
      First, we are talking about rules of life on earth, not
      eternal life. Second, Jesus is our Creator. He is not just
      another person offering to ransom our life. Jesus’ sacrifice
      not only shows the terrible nature of sin, it shows how far
      God will go to save our life eternally.)

    3. Friend, we have a God of justice and mercy. Will you accept
      His mercy to avoid His justice? Why not give your heart to
      Him right now?

  4. Next Week: We start a new series on “Spiritual Gifts.”