This lengthy passage details all the journeys the Children of Israel make in the desert, from Egypt to the banks of the Jordan. Although they spent 50 years in the desert, the Torah tells us that they only made camp 38 times. The Israel Bible points out this sign of God’s incredible compassion: rather than forcing them to wander aimlessly during their punishment in the wilderness, he allows them to rest for extended periods of time between travels.
On the plains of Moab opposite the Canaanite city of Jericho, God tells Moses to instruct the people on their conduct in the Promised Land. They must drive out the current inhabitants and destroy any idolatrous artifacts left behind, otherwise they will become a stumbling block before the Children of Israel, causing them to be exiled. These verses, the Israel Bible explains, are also the source for the commandment to settle the Land of Israel.
The borders of the Land of Israel are delineated, an important detail that the Israel Bible reminds us, because certain laws, particularly those regarding agricultural provisions for the poor, are applicable only in the Holy Land. This shows that caring for others is an inherent part of living in Israel.
The land is divided among the tribes by lot, with larger families being awarded a larger portion and smaller families less property. Only the Levites are not given a specific inheritance. Rather, the Children of Israel are commanded to set aside 48 cities for them to live in. The Israel Bible explains this was to allow them to set a spiritual example for the entire nation, by being spread out among them and serving as spiritual leaders.
Six of these cities are also set aside as cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan River. The purpose of these cities is to offer sanctuary to someone who kills another person by accident and is sought by an avenger. If the avenger finds him outside the city of refuge and kills him, the avenger is not guilty of murder. If the manslayer reaches the safety of the city of refuge, he is safe, but he must remain there until the High Priest’s death. The Torah also states that one witness is not sufficient for a capital case and warns against polluting the land with spilled blood.
Virtual Classroom Discussion
Why do you think the manslayer is sent to live among the Levites to escape the avenger?