Numbers 35:5 MEANING

Numbers 35:5
(5) And ye shall measure from without the city on the east side two thousand cubits . . . --The explanation of this passage commonly given by Jewish writers is that the area included by four lines drawn at a distance of 1,000 cubits from the walls of the city was to be allotted to the Levites for their cattle, and a larger area included by four lines drawn at a distance of 2,000 cubits from the inner suburbs was to be allotted to them for vineyards, &c. The explanation of J. D. Michaelis is, that only an area included by four lines drawn at a distance of 1,000 cubits from the walls of the city was to be assigned to the Levites, and that the length of the city walls, supposing the city to be square, was to be added to the 2,000 cubits of the four boundary lines. The Greek text has 2,000 in Numbers 35:4 as in Numbers 35:5. According to the former of these explanations it is supposed that the space included in the first thousand cubits from the city walls was designed for the cattle, and that the space included in the 2,000 cubits beyond the walls was designed for vineyards, &c., or vice versa. According to the explanation of this passage which has been suggested by J. D. Michaelis, it is supposed that the length of the city wall was added to the 2,000 cubits in every case, so that, e.g., in the case of a city the walls of which were 1,000 cubits in length and breadth, the suburbs would be 3,000 cubits in length and breadth; and in the case of a city the walls of which were 500 cubits in length and breadth, the suburbs would measure 2,500 cubits in length and breadth. It is obvious that, if this supposition be correct, the size of the suburbs would vary in each case with that of the city, so that the suburbs of the larger city, in which there would, in all probability, be a greater number of resident Levites, would be greater than those of a smaller city, in which the number of Levites would probably be less. At the same time, the explanation does not accord so nearly as the preceding with the direction that in every case the measure was to be 2,000 cubits.

Verse 5. - Ye shall measure from without the city (מִחוּצ לָעִיר - ἔξω τῆς πόλεως)... two thousand cubits. These directions are very obscure. Some have held that the country for 1000 cubits beyond the walls was reserved for pasture (according to verse 4), and for another 1000 cubits for fields and vineyards, so that the Levitical lands extended 2000 cubits in all directions. This is reasonable in itself, since 2000 cubits is only half a mile, and rather more than a square mile of land would not seem too much for pastures, gardens, etc. for a town with at least 1000 inhabitants. The smallest tribe territories seem to have comprised some 300 square miles of country; and if we take the Levitical towns as averaging 1000 cubits square, their forty-eight cities would only give them seventy-three square miles of territory. There is, however, no notice of anything being given to the Levites except their "suburbs," so that this explanation must be at best very doubtful. Others have argued for a plan according to which each outer boundary, drawn at 1000 cubits' distance from the wall, would measure 2000 cubits, plus the length of the town wall; but this is far too artificial, and could only be considered possible as long as it was confined to a paper sketch, for it presupposes that each city lay four-square, and faced the four points of the compass. If the first explanation be untenable, the only alternative sufficiently simple and natural is to suppose that, in order to avoid irregularities of measurement, each outer boundary was to be drawn at an approximate distance of 1000 cubits from the wall, and each of an approximate length of 2000 cubits; at the angles the lines would have to be joined as best they might. In Leviticus 25:32-34 certain regulations are inserted in favour of the Levites. Their houses might be redeemed at any time, and not only within the full year allowed to others; moreover, they returned to them (contrary to the general rule) at the year of Jubilee. Their property in the "suburbs" they could not sell at all, for it was inalienable. It is difficult to believe that these regulations were really made at Mount Sinai, presupposing, as they do, the legislation of this chapter; but if they were actually made at this time, on the eve of the conquest, it is easy to see why they were subsequently inserted in the chapter which deals generally with the powers of sale and redemption.

35:1-8 The cities of the priests and Levites were not only to accommodate them, but to place them, as religious teachers, in several parts of the land. For though the typical service of the tabernacle or temple was only in one place, the preaching of the word of God, and prayer and praise, were not thus confined. These cities were to be given out of each tribe. Each thus made a grateful acknowledgement to God. Each tribe had the benefit of the Levites dwelling amongst them, to teach them the knowledge of the Lord; thus no parts of the country were left to sit in darkness. The gospel provides that he who is taught in the word, should communicate to him that teaches, in all good things, Ga 6:6. We are to free God's ministers from distracting cares, and to leave them at leisure for the duties of their station; so that they may be wholly employed therein, and avail themselves of every opportunity, by acts of kindness, to gain the good-will of the people, and to draw their attention.And ye shall measure from without the city on the east side two thousand cubits,.... Before only 1000 cubits were ordered to bemeasured, and now 2000, even 2000 more, which were to be added to the other, and to begin where they ended. The first 1000 were for their cattle and goods, these 2000 for their gardens, orchards, fields, and vineyards; and so the Jewish writers understand it. Jarchi observes, that 1000 cubits are ordered, and after that 2000; and asks, how is this? or how is it to be reconciled? to which he answers, 2000 are put to them round about, and of them the 1000 innermost are for suburbs, and the outermost (i.e. the 2000) are for fields and vineyards; and with this agrees the Misnah (a), from whence he seems to have taken it; and the same was to be on every other side of the city, south, west, and north, as follows:

and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits; which, added to the other 1000 all around, must make a large circumference of land:

and the city shall be in the midst; in the midst of the circuit of three thousand cubits all around, so that it must stand very pleasant and convenient:

this shall be to them the suburbs of the cities; such a quantity of ground, consisting of so many cubits, shall be assigned to every city; the suburbs or glebe land to a Levite's city, on the four sides were four squares, and each square consisted of seventy six acres, one rood, twenty perches, and eighty square feet; all the four squares amounting to three hundred and five acres, two roods, one perch, besides fifty seven feet square, according to Bishop Cumberland.

(a) Sotah, c. 5. sect. 3. Maimon. & Bartenora in ib.

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