These final instructions regarding life in the Promised Land fall into three sections:
35:1-5 apportionment of the land for the priests and Levites.
35:6-34 shedding of blood and cities of refuge.
36:1-12 inheritance laws for women.
Although the work of caring for the Tabernacle took place in a central area, the ministry of preaching, prayer and praise could be led anywhere. It was decided that rather than the Levites living together, they would be split up amongst the other tribes. They would be given towns and adequate pastureland and live their lives alongside other tribes. These days our priests (Vicars, Rectors, Ministers etc.) usually live amongst the people they minister to. They usually live in houses bought and maintained by the Diocese, although latterly this is increasingly not the case. Living amongst those they care for is both a privilege and a responsibility. Non-churchgoers will often judge the state of the church – rightly or wrongly – by observing the lives of the Vicarage family. It is nevertheless a privilege to help a local community to celebrate and mourn the big occasions of their lives. Either way, our clergy need our prayers for their ‘goldfish bowl existence’.
The people were about to enter the land and about to do battle with the inhabitants. 35:33 tells us that bloodshed pollutes the land which must then be avenged. We already know that if someone was murdered, their nearest relative would have to avenge their death. We can imagine, however, in the chaos of the Israelite inexperienced fighting force that some deaths, maybe of their own people would be accidental. The law was plain: “an eye for an eye: a tooth for a tooth”. Therefore: a life for a life. This passage shows the get out clause for a claim of accidental death. Cities of refuge were places where the accused could wait in safety for trial: a reminder to us that our justice system provides a mean where ‘the avenger’ (the victim’s family) cannot just take the law into their own hands but has to go through a legal process.
Finally, we read of Zelophehad, a descendant of the tribe of Manasseh whose daughters inherited his property and land. Ordinarily, if the daughters married outside of their tribe, all the deceased’s possessions would then pass to the tribe they had married into. In order to preserve this first allocation of land, however, they were commanded to marry only within the tribe of Manasseh and such was the case subsequently for all women who inherited.
Lord, help me today to be a good example of Christian living and seek justice and mercy for those I meet.