God’s Word for You
Numbers 35:1-5 Caring for our shepherds
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 4, 2022
Towns for the Levites
35 The Lord spoke to Moses on the Plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho: 2 Command the people of Israel to give the Levites cities to live in from the territory assigned to them as their possession. They will also give the Levites the pasturelands around those cities. 3 The Levites will then have cities to live in. Their pasturelands will be for their cattle, their flocks and herds, and all their other animals.
The cities are numbered, listed, distributed, and categorized in Joshua 21. Cities for the three tribes of Levites (Gershon, Kohath, and Merari) were distributed throughout Israel, even among the Transjordan tribes, and as we will see later in this chapter, this also included six special cities to provide refuge for anyone accused of murder. A question that everyone would have asked at this point would have been, what about pastureland for the herds and flocks of the Levites? (Today this would be similar to a person looking for a house and asking about whether it has a garage). This was explained in precise terms next:
4 The pasturelands of the cities, which you will give to the Levites, will extend out from the wall of the city 500 yards in all directions. 5 As the eastern boundary you will measure 1000 yards in addition to the size of the city, 1000 yards as the southern boundary, 1000 yards as the western boundary, and 1000 yards as the northern boundary. The city is in the middle. This area will serve as the pasturelands of their cities.
The “thousand yards” of the EHV is a good way of saying the “two thousand cubits” of the Hebrew text, since a cubit is a foot and a half (18 inches) in length. The distances given in verses 4 and 5 can be confusing to some readers and commentators, even if they are simply measured out either in full or to scale with a model (or on paper). A city was considered to be a square in shape. The pastureland extended out to a distance a thousand yards from the city walls in every direction, with the city in the center. However, what is to be made of verse 4 and the cryptic, “500 yards in all directions”? There seem to be at least four possible answers:
1, The text might assume that a city was a thousand yards to a side, and the pastureland extended from that limit another thousand yards. This does not take into account the 500 yards of verse 4.
2, The text might assume a city of 500 yards, and then a thousand yards after that on each side. This seems to take all of the dimensions seriously, but it is not easy to depict except on paper.
3, The text might assume no dimensions at all for the city (even Jerusalem was quite small in ancient times), and so the thousand yards are meant to virtually touch one another. Again, this does not take into account the 500 yards of verse 4.
4, A fourth possibility is that the city’s dimensions are variable, and the thousand yards on each side mark the outer border of the pastureland on each side, and the 500 yards (verse 4) extend out from the walls, so that the pastureland is a box with an empty square in the middle, a sort of ‘no-man’s land’ around the city that was meant for cultivation (a modest 350 acres) or some other purpose rather than pastureland.
While no commentaries mention this fourth possibility, it has the merit of taking all of the text into account, as does number 2.
God wanted his servants the priests and Levites to be taken care of. At times in Israel, these men were treated with contempt as if they were beggars. At other times, they were held in highest esteem, serving even as advisors to the kings.
God wants us to take care of our called workers today, but he does not give us laws or mandates that must be followed. That leaves the possibility for a humble pastor or teacher to be content with very little support, but this is a danger, since it means that the congregation might and probably would expect that the next pastor or teacher would also be content with very little, but that person might have a family to support or a health problem to be kept in mind. No pastor or teacher truly helps their church by behaving this way. The worker, Jesus said, deserves his wages (Luke 10:7). And Paul said: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). For myself, I would never demand anything, but for the sake of the man who will one day replace me, I should demand much, for while I might get by with very little, he should not be forced to. And remember, “he is worthy of double honor.”
The Apostles urge Christians to see to the needs of their pastors, teachers and ministers. Paul says: “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (2 Corinthians 8:23-24). And Peter told his people to pay special attention to Paul: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him” (2 Peter 3:15). And John commended his readers: “You are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 1:5-6). You don’t need to set aside acres and acres of pastureland for your pastor, but give glory to God (praising him for his surpassing greatness, Psalm 150:2) by praying for your pastor and for his family. You trust him to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Put your trust in the God who sent him to you.
Pastor Timothy Smith