I admit that I had assumed the Levites would be getting all the livestock for their sacrifices from offerings by members of the other tribes. But while that makes sense for a great many of the occasional offerings, like sin offerings, if there are going to be the daily offerings outlined a few chapters ago, then they obviously need a stock right at hand. So the Levites have flocks of their own, and towns with pasture around them. Even Levites get land of some kind, but it’s scattered throughout the other tribes so that they can perform their duties everywhere.
This chapter also covers the “cities of refuge,” or “cities of escaping” in the Japanese. Since the usual recourse for a death in cultures all over the world has been for the family of the deceased to take vengeance on the killer, this chapter tries to do away with personal revenge in favor of a court system with some lenience for unintentional deaths. First, when a person dies, the killer has to be taken to trial, with at least two witnesses before a death penalty can be sought. Then, if it turns out the death was accidental (manslaughter, not murder), the person cannot be killed, but instead has to live in one of the “cities of refuge” until the death of the high priest.
There’s also quite a bit at the end about how you can’t accept monetary penalties as a way out of facing the death penalty. Murder is a serious enough offense that it requires blood for blood. As someone who’s not crazy about the death penalty (too much room for error) that sounded awful, but I took to reading some of the other various legal codes floating around in the ancient Middle East, and in some of them, yes, you can just pay a family a fee for killing their relative.
Think of how unfair this would be. Rich people who could afford to pay these fees could get away with murder much more easily than ordinary people. Which got me to thinking about court settlements today, when mining companies or oil drillers or other businesses have practices that kill or injure their employees. The penalties we impose on them are microscopic fractions of the money they make, and it costs them less to just pay off families any time something goes wrong rather than taking the time and financial resources to make sure nothing goes wrong in the first place.
People should not get a separate form of justice if they can afford it, yet that is exactly how the world often works. As brutal as the blood-for-blood legality might be, it does even the playing field.
The Japanese: houbokuchi “pasture” (v 2), satsugaisha “murderer” (v 16), koi “deliberate, intentional” (v 20), tekii “hostility, enmity,” naguritsukeru “to hit hard,” tedashi o suru “to meddle” (v 21), kigai “harm” (v 23), hanrei “precedent,” tounin “the person in question” (v 24), shizai “death penalty,” hanketsu “judgment, ruling,” aganai “compensation” (v 31).