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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Numbers 35

Numbers 35:1-8

1. And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,

1. Et loquutus est Jehova in campestribus Moab juxta Jordanem. Jericho, dicendo:

2. Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them.

2. Praecipe filiis Israel ut dent Levitis de haereditate possessionis suae urbes ad habitandum, et suburbana urbium ipsarum, per circuitus earum dabitis ipsis Levitis.

3. And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts.

3. Eruntque urbes illis ad habitandum: suburbana vero earum erunt animalibus eorum, et substantia eorum, et omnibus bestiis eorum.

4. And the suburbs of the cities, which ye shall give unto the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about.

4. Et suburbana urbium earum quas dabitis Levitis, a pariete urbis, et forinsecus, mille cubitorum erunt per circuitum.

5. And ye shall measure from without the city on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits; and the city shall be in the midst: this shall be to them the suburbs of the cities.

5. Praeterea metiemini extra urbem a plaga orientali duo millia cubitorum, eta plaga meridiana duo millia cubitorum, eta plaga occidentali duo millia cubitorum, eta plaga aquilionari duo millia cubitorum: et urbs ipsa erit in medio: ista mensura erit eis suburbanorum urbium.

6. And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither: and to them ye shall add forty and two cities.

6. De urbibus autem quas dabitis Levitis, erunt sex urbes refugii, quas dabitis ut fugiat illuc homicida: et praeter illas dabitis quadraginta duas urbes.

7. So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities: them shall ye give with their suburbs.

7. Omnes urbes quas dabitis Levitis, erunt quadraginta octo urbes, ipsas et suburbana earum dabitis:

8. And the cities which ye shall give shall be of the possession of the children of Israel: from them that have many ye shall give many; but from them that have few ve shall give few: every one shall give of his cities unto the Levites according to his inheritance which he inheriteth.

8. Et urbes quas dabiris de possessione filiorum Israel, ab eo qui plures habuerit, plures accipietis: et ab eo qui pauciores, pauciores capietis: singuli pro quantitate possessionis suae quam possederint, dabunt ex urbibus suis Levitis.


1. And the Lord spake unto Moses. Although there was no inheritance assigned to the tribe of Levi, yet it was necessary that they should be supplied with dwelling-places. No lands were given then where they might sow and reap; but by way of compensation the tithes were a sufficient means of subsistence, even after deducting the tithes which were paid to the poor. God now, however, makes provision for their residences; and here we must carefully remark, that they were so distributed over the whole land, as to be, as it were, guards regularly posted for the preservation of the worship of God, lest any superstition should creep in, or the people should fall into gross contempt of God. For we know that they were chosen by Him, not only to attend to the ceremonies, but to be the interpreters of the law, and to cherish sincere piety among the people. Now if all had been placed in one station, it was dangerous lest the doctrine of the Law should immediately fall into oblivion through the whole land; and thus the other tribes should grow irreligious. Wherefore the incomparable goodness of God here shone forth, since their punishment was turned as it were into a reward of virtue, and their disgrace into honor; for this dispersion of the tribe of Levi had been foretold by the holy patriarch Jacob, (Ge 46:7,) that their posterity should be scattered in that land, which Levi the father of their race had polluted by a detestable murder and wicked perfidy. God proved eventually that this prophecy, which proceeded from Him, did not fall to the ground unfulfilled; nevertheless, although the Levites were to be banished here and there in token of their disgrace, yet were they set in various parts of the land, that they might retain the other tribes under the yoke of the Law. It was then in God’s wonderful providence that they were rather placed in peculiar and fixed residences, than allowed to mingle themselves promiscuously with the rest of the people; for the cities which God assigned to them were so many schools, where they might better and more freely engage themselves in teaching the Law, and prepare themselves for performing the office of teaching. For if they had lived indiscriminately among the multitude, they were liable to contract many vices, as well as to neglect the study of the Law; but when they were thus collected into separate classes, such an union reminded them that they were divided from the people that they might devote themselves altogether to God. Besides, their cities were like lamps shining into the very furthest corners of the land. They were therefore fortified, as it were, by walls, lest the corruptions of the people should penetrate to them. Their association together also should have stimulated them mutually to exhort each other to confinehey, decent and modest manners, temperance, and other virtues worthy of God’s servants; whilst, if they fell into dissolute habits, they were the less excusable. Thus their cities were like watch towers in which they might keep guard, so as to drive impiety away from the borders of the holy land. Hence was the light of heavenly doctrine diffused; hence was the seed of life scattered; hence were the examples to be sought of holiness and universal integrity.

4. And the suburbs of the cities. A discrepancy here appears, from whence a question arises; for Moses first limits the suburbs to a thousand cubits from the city in every direction; and then seems to extend them to two thousand. Some thus explain the difficulty, viz., that the parts nearest to the city were destined for cottages and gardens; and that then there was another space of a thousand cubits left free for their flocks and herds; but this seems only to be invented, in order to elude by the subterfuge the contradiction objected to. My own opinion rather is, that after Moses had given them a boundary of a thousand cubits on every side, he proceeds to shew the way in which they were to be measured, that thus he may obviate all the quarrels which might aria: from their neighbors. It is plain that, when he repeats the same thing twice, the latter verse is only an explanation of the former; and thus it would be absurd, that after having fixed a thousand cubits, he should immediately double that number. But it will be all very consistent, if this measurement be taken in a circuit; for if you draw a circle, and then a line from the center to the circumference, that line will be about a tenth part of the whole circumference; compare then the fourth part of the circle with the straight line which goes to the center, and it will be greater by one part and a half. But, if you leave a thousand cubits for the city, the two thousand cubits  199 in the four parts of the circumference will correspond with one thousand cubits from the city towards each of the boundaries.

It is afterwards prescribed, in accordance with equity, that a greater or less number of cities should be taken according to the size of the possessions belonging to each tribe; for, just as in paying tax or tribute, regard is had to each man’s means, so it was just that every tribe should contribute equitably in proportion to its abundance. As to the cities of refuge, I now omit to explain what their condition was, because this matter relates to the Sixth Commandment; only let us observe that the wretched exiles were entrusted to the care of the Levites, that they might be more safely guarded. Besides, it was probable that those who presided over holy things would be upright and honest judges, so as not to admit men indiscriminately out of hope of advantage, or from carelessness, but only to protect the innocent, after duly examining their case.



Les huit mille coudees prinses aux quatre quatriers conviendront avec les mille coudees d’espace entre la ville, et les bornes des fanbourgs.” — Fr. The more common solution of this difficulty appears to be that suggested by Maimonides, viz., that besides the 1000 cubits allotted to the suburbs, 2000 more were added for fields and vineyards. Rosenmuller, however, demurs to this interpretation, which he does not consider the text will bear. I have translated C. word for word, but I believe his figures are wrong. It is probable that his theory is the same as that of Corn. a Lapide, which he thus more clearly propounds, “God seems here to comprise the city and its suburbs in a circle, so that the center should be the city, and the circumference should end at the distance of 1000 cubits on every side of the city walls. This circle He divides into four triangles, each of which is isosceles, i e., it, has its two sides equal, which are drawn from the center to the circumference. God, therefore, here commands, that the suburbs on every side should be extended a thousand cubits, and that the east side should be contained in two lines (each, of course, of 1000 cubits) drawn from the city to the circumference of the suburbs, which two lines comprehend that east side in the shape of a triangle;” and so also with the other sides, “so that the two lines drawn to the circumference of each side, which are the two equal sides of the triangle, should together contain 2000 cubits."

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