Revenge is an empty dish. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” Francis Bacon advised, “Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.” And Paul instructed, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Only God’s justice is perfect.
The establishment of cities of refuge (done in Joshua 20) was intended to break the cycle of eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth revenge (35:6–34). There would be six such cities, taken from the 48 to be allotted to the Levites. Anyone guilty of accidental manslaughter could go there and escape “blood for blood” cultural traditions. God still demands justice, however: real murderers still had to pay with their lives. They couldn’t buy their way out of punishment, as was the case in other local cultures (35:31).
Four other matters are dealt with in today’s reading. After reviewing Israel’s wilderness wanderings in Numbers 33, Numbers 34 and 35 look ahead to the conquest of Canaan. First, God delineated the complete boundaries of the land. Second, He reminded them to divide up fairly the tribal land allotments. Since the inheritance was from Him, they would be wise to listen to His commands!
Third, God provided a mechanism for this to happen. A committee of tribal leaders, headed by Caleb, would make sure God’s instructions were obeyed. Fourth and finally, towns were set aside for the Levites to live in (done in Joshua 21). Their inheritance was to be serving the Lord, not land, but they still needed places to live. Their towns were spread throughout the land allotted to the other tribes.