The Release of Homicides from the Cities of Refuge A Critical Monograph on Numbers 35:25 -- By: Warren Driver

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 01:2 (Fall 1960)
Article: The Release of Homicides from the Cities of Refuge A Critical Monograph on Numbers 35:25
Author: Warren Driver


The Release of Homicides from the Cities of Refuge
A Critical Monograph on Numbers 35:25

Warren Driver

Assistant Professor
Grace College

“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” (Num 35:25).

Why were the homicides who were detained in the cities of refuge released upon the death of the high priest? The reason why this event of religious interest in Israel should be the terminus of the slayer’s confinement, as indicated in Numbers 35:25, has elicited a variety of explanations. First, however, the ancient customs regarding kinsmen and the procedure in cases of homicide must be ascertained.

In some ancient eastern civilizations if a man were slain by another man, the duty of avenging him lay as a sacred obligation upon his nearest relative. In the Biblical record the next of kin is called a goel, the active participle of gaal meaning “to deliver,” “to redeem,” “to buy back.” Oehler describes the goel as “that particular relative whose special duty it was to restore the violated family integrity, who had to redeem not only landed property that had been alienated from the family (Lev 25:25ff), or a member of the family that had fallen into slavery (Lev 25:47ff), but also the blood that had been taken away from the family by murder.”1 The goel in the last named capacity is almost inevitably known as goel haddam, “the redeemer of blood.” The Authorized Version translates this duty as “the avenger of blood,” but Trumbull points out that the mission of the goel haddam under the Old Testament law was not vengeance but equity. He was not an avenger, but a restorer, a redeemer, a balancer.2

Genesis 9:6 expresses generally the precept that he who sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. The first indication of the redemption of blood is to be found in Genesis 27:45. The words of Rebekah, “Why should I be deprived also of you both in one day?” mean that if Jacob were slain by the hand of Esau, then Esau would be slain by the redeemer of blood. We cannot be certain how long blood-redemption e...

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