Numbers 35:9-34 contains information on the use of the cities of refuge, as well as a variety of regulations regarding the attitudes and circumstances under which a death occurred. Of special interest is God's comment about what murder does to a nation.
Murder defiles, corrupts, pollutes, debases, adulterates the land. Can murder possibly enhance the quality of life? Does it produce liberty? Does it free us to move about with light-hearted security because all is well? Or does it produce anxiety in people, stain a nation's reputation, and instill fear in outsiders who do business or have social intercourse with them? Murder has no "saving grace." It produces nothing good. For society's good, God has given authority to the state to punish those guilty of murder with a penalty commensurate with their crime.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
The cities of refuge were sanctuaries to which those who accidentally killed another could flee. There were six of them located throughout Israel, three on each side of the Jordan River. Even if the killer made it to a city of refuge, he still had to undergo a trial. If he was found guilty of committing an accidental death, he had to remain in the city until the death of the current high priest. Thus, the city served as his jail. However, he was otherwise free to move about, find employment, and live with and support his family.
If he left the city for any reason, the avenger of blood could lawfully take the killer's life. The avenger of blood (verses 12, 19) was usually a blood-relative of the manslaughter victim. His assignment from the family was to protect the family's rights and to avenge the family's loss of the killed person. The vengeance taken was not always to take the killer's life. If the avenger actually took the killer's life before he managed to reach a city of refuge, then he truly was an "avenger of blood." However, the Hebrew term translated "avenger" is go'el, which has fascinating ramifications when appearing in other contexts, as it can also be translated "redeem" or "redeemer."
In the book of Ruth, it is translated as "redeem" seven times. Boaz was Ruth's redeemer. The redeemer was the one who stood for his family in order to protect its rights. Boaz protected the rights of his family in behalf of Ruth and Naomi due to Naomi's husband's death. He was the family's "avenger."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Numbers 35:33: