Moses instructs the people about the placement of the cities of refuge. He also ensures they understand the qualifications for one seeking shelter there. Refuge is only given in cases of accidental death.
Israel is directed to “measure the distances and divide into three parts the area of the land that the Lord your God gives you as a possession” (verse 3). Each third would host one of the cities of refuge. These three cities and these measurements are for the land on this side of the Jordan. These cities are to be established right away. When God gives them the land on the other side of the Jordan three more cities are to be distributed within them.
I had to go check this out because it looked to me like God was saying that as they increased their territory by being faithful to Him that their need for the cities would also increase. We encountered God speaking about these cities of refuge in Numbers 35. He tells them, “Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge” (Numbers 35: 14).
God was preparing the places of refuge and the homes of the Levites even before crossing the Jordan. But this preparation didn’t mean that those on this side were exempt from the work of conquering the Promised Land or the obedience requirements for this blessing.
God knew the needs and weaknesses of the people. He knew there were going to be accidents and accusations. And He knew there would be blatant sin with breaking of His basic commandments. He prepared a place of protection for those who would be unjustly punished without it.
This protection was to be accessible to anyone within the boundaries of the land God was giving them. They were to be near enough that the one fleeing could reach one of the cities right away. But their protection was ONLY for those who had killed someone by accident. If someone was found to have committed a premeditated act of murder they were removed from the city and handed over to the “avenger of blood” to pay for their crime with their own blood.
Right before starting on my bible time I was looking at an unsolicited email I received. In this email I was asked to sign a petition to increase the charges against the police officer charged in the death of George Floyd from Minneapolis. He is being charged with “Third Degree Murder” which is equivalent to manslaughter in other states. I’m not passing judgment on this issue one way or another here as I don’t want to start a debate. What I want to look at is God’s definition of a “manslayer” and our legal definition of “manslaughter.”
To God there are only two kinds of death by another’s hand; murder and accident. Our reading today gives a clear example of what an accident would look like. The person in this example was going about his business and something out of his control occurred that resulted in the death of another.
Numbers 35:22-24 gives us a little more clarification on the issue. “But if without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended, the assembly must judge between the accused and the avenger of blood according to these regulations.”
So the act has to be accidental and without enmity for it to be considered manslaughter. For an act to be considered as murder there has to be an intent behind it. The perpetrator doesn’t necessarily have to be planning for the other to die but to do harm that results in the death of another. There had to be enmity and premeditation in the act.
God says ““Anyone who assaults and kills another person must be put to death. But if it was simply an accident permitted by God, I will appoint a place of refuge where the slayer can run for safety. However, if someone deliberately kills another person, then the slayer must be dragged even from my altar and be put to death” (Exodus 21:12-14).
This brings us to the definition of murder and manslaughter in our laws. I have found that we mirror very closely God’s intentions. One area where we diverge is “excusable” or “justifiable” homicide. These exceptions relate to self-defense, defense of another, or law enforcement who kills another in the line of duty.
God didn’t make a provision here. He said if you kill, you receive punishment. In the case of murder you paid with your life. For manslaughter you were confined to one of the cities of refuge until the death of the high priest. If you left before that you paid for your actions with your life, accident or not. BUT if you were the “avenger of blood” your actions that resulted in the death of the one who took the first life were excused and received NO punishment. There was also no punishment for death inflicted upon another in the course of battle.
With our laws and God’s laws where does it put our officer? I believe it puts him in a place where his heart has to be judged. Was he acting out of enmity? Were his actions beyond the scope of his appointed authority? Were his actions intended to cause harm to another? I believe only God knows the answer to these questions. We may make judgments based on what others have done recently or what we observe in the videos but we can’t know his heart.
We can see however the intent of the heart of those rioting in the streets. Their actions that result in injury to others ARE born out of enmity. There is intent to inflict harm. They claim it is in an effort to get justice but I have little doubt that will be the result.
What we need instead is prayer for all involved. Hate never quieted anything or had a positive outcome. The first place to start is to remove hate of any kind from our own heart. Only when we each do this can we begin to heal. Unfortunately Satan’s children aren’t going to agree to do this and God won’t force them to; YET. In the meantime be an example of love and pray others will join you. Let God be the judge and give wisdom to those in authority in this matter.
Father God, our world is in a lot of turmoil right now. I know it is only going to get worse before the end. It is scary all the hate that is running rampant. Please let me be a voice for love in whatever arena You place me. Please give Your wisdom to those in authority in the situations developing all over my nation. Protect my family from the hate that is growing all around. Please let those who are trying to bridge the gaps of hate with compassion be louder than those raising their voices and fists in anger. Heal my land Father.
I honestly don’t know Your plan or timing for Jesus’ return. I’m almost afraid to ask to quiet our world because I don’t know if it is in You plan right now. Maybe this is the beginning of “birth pains” for Jesus’ return. If so, come quickly Lord Jesus. If not, help me to walk in Your will whatever lies ahead.