The Israelites are on the borders of the Promised Land. Since the God-directed genocide of the Midianites in Numbers 31, the Israelites clans of Reuben, Gad, and Makir (from the Manasseh clan) decided that they would take land on the east of the Jordan River instead of entering the Promised Land (Numbers 32). Remarkably, God did not have an opinion on the alternative settlement.
Numbers 33 had God tell Moses to be sure to drive out all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land, despite God claiming earlier in Exodus 23:28-29 that God Himself would drive them out.
In Numbers 34, God established the borders of the Promised Land. That must have reminded God that there were still some important rules to convey, which we find in the chapter of this study.
Murder and manslaughter. Outside of conditions of a war, what is the appropriate justice for the intentional and the unintentional killing of another person? The Bible presents an interesting approach to this question, and in the process provides even more interesting revelations; revelations which both support and refute of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus.
Numbers 35:1-15 opens the chapter describing how the Levites (the official helpers of the priests) will be granted 48 towns throughout the Israelite settlements, and how six of those towns will become Cities of Refuge. A person who accidentally kills someone or who is accused of murder can flee to any of these Cities of Refuge. (Cross-reference Exodus 21:12-14)
Numbers 35:16-21 elaborates on what counts as murder, such as any attack with a weapon in hand regardless of intent, or any attack made with malice or hostility, when a person dies as a result. The “avenger of blood” (typically the closest surviving family member of the dead person) gets to kill the murderer.
Numbers 35:22-28 covers the case of manslaughter in greater detail, when death comes without malicious intent. The person guilty of manslaughter should flee to a City of Refuge. His or her case will be judged by an assembly. Provided that the judgement is that there was no malicious intent, the person guilty manslaughter can live in a City of Refuge without any fear retribution. Once the High Priest dies, the guilty person can then return to his or her home without any fear retribution. However, if the avenger of blood sees the guilty person outside the City of Refuge anytime before the High Priest dies, the avenger can kill the guilty person without becoming guilty of murder himself.
So a man guilty of manslaughter could only be held accountable for a certain term; a term which could be anywhere from a few days up to the remainder of his life, if the High Priest lived longer than he did. Having a flexible and somewhat arbitrary term does not really seem like true justice. However, it does do a great job of foreshadowing redemption through Jesus, a different kind of High Priest (Hebrews 5:7-10). As the story goes, when Jesus died, all of our sins were forgiven. Well, at least the sins of believers were forgiven.
After that, we see that a murderer should be killed only if there is more than one witness (Numbers 35:30).
Numbers 35:31-32 expands on the guilty sentence, saying that no ransom should be accepted for the life of a murderer, or to allow a man guilty of manslaughter to return to his land before his full term in the City of Refuge.
Here is where things begin to look bad for foreshadowing Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus gave his life as a ransom to save everyone from death (Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Hebrews 9:15). You could argue that the death of Jesus was an act of substitution, not ransom, for guilty parties. Well then, examine the next verse of Numbers 35:33:
"Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it." NIVGod has a strict no-substitution policy here. So this is a definite failing of foreshadowing Jesus. Unless...
Well, there are some people who believe everything happens for a reason, and that God is in control of everything. From that perspective, we are just meat puppets without even realizing it. Now, if that is the case, then you could say that God is ultimately the one who shed the blood. So maybe this does foreshadow Jesus after all! ;-)