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2014-08-15

Ain’t that the truth? Ask any religious person questions about their god and you will eventually come to the old “God is mysterious, and I don’t understand why he commands me to do these things that certainly appear evil, but I’m going to keep on doing them anyway” response. They don’t usually work it in such a frank manner, but that’s essentially what they mean.

In Numbers 35:1-5 God commands the Israelites to give many cities (we’ll find out exactly how many on Monday) to the Levites so they can house their countless inheritances and possessions. If you recall from Leviticus, Levites slowly but constantly accrue more and more money, buildings, and land, so they’re definitely going to need these cities to store their swag.

But it’s not just the urban areas of a city that are to be given to the Levites, God requires additional land to be measured outward from the city in all four directions for pastoral use. In Numbers 35:4, it’s written that the borders should extend 1,000 cubits (about 450 meters) from the city walls as suburban area, but in the very next verse, it’s written that the borders should extend 2,000 cubits (about 900 meters) from outside the city as suburban area.

It sounds like each starts from the same point, in which case the two measurement overlap making two sections of 1,000 cubits each for a sum of 2,000 cubits in each direction. But it could also be interpreted as the second measurement is in addition to the first, a 1,000 cubit area, then a 2,000 cubit ares, for a sum of 3,000 cubits in each direction. Of course, this could be just another one of the many cases where the bible lists the same thing twice with different particulars. Considering how often conflict arises from property disputes, it would be nice to have the correct answer to this problem! Thankfully, commentators have offered no end of correct solutions to this problem, and naturally, they all conflict!

Most commentators assure us that these two values are to be combined for a total of 3,000 cubits, while other commentators assure us that these two values overlap for a total of 2,000 cubits. Many of them even affirm that the first section was used for crops while the outer section was used for livestock, even though there is nothing in the bible to suggest this. Surprisingly, one commentator is actually reasonable and suggests that this could have been a typographical error, but quickly saves face by assuring us that it does nothing to affect the perfect authority of the bible. Finally, some commentators ignore the problem completely as if the answer were self-evident!

Me personally, I’m assuming the combination model of 3,000 cubits in each direction because, as a decree that was commanded by Moses God, I can’t imagine him ever short-changing his favorite tribe, the Levites!

 

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Oh the irony!