We are coming near the end of the allocations for the people of Israel. Today’s task for Joshua is designating the cities of refuge.
There are six cities of refuge spread throughout the land that God gave to Israel. These six cities are special. They are for the protection of anyone who ACCIDENTALLY kills someone else. They are NOT for the person who kills someone intentionally. These cities are controlled by the Levites and come from their allotment of 48 cities throughout the land. We will get into the remaining cities of the Levites next time we meet. For today we will focus on these six.
Life is precious! Every life matters to God. Killing another is a punishable act in God’s Law and in man’s law too. But there are circumstances which make the act of killing another exempt from punishment. In the newly established Israel protection would be provided in the form of cities of refuge for those who didn’t intend to kill but took a life none the less.
ANYONE who killed another was subject to retribution, whether intentional or not. ANYONE in this situation could go to one of the cities of refuge and seek their protection. But only those whose actions were unintentional would be granted long term protection.
The one committing the offense was required to present their case at the city gates. If it was immediately apparent that the act was intentional, the offender would not be granted protect and refused admission. With cases that were not clear the offender would be taken in and granted protection until the matter could be heard for judgement. At least two witnesses would be required to prove guilt. If the verdict of the people came back as murder the offender would be removed from the city and from the protection of those in the city. If the verdict of the people came back as innocent of malice/manslayer the offender would remain in that city under their protection until the current high priest died or they died; whichever came first.
The “avenger of blood” was one in the dead person’s family who was legally authorized to take the life of the one who took their family member’s life. A life for a life. The avenger of blood did NOT become guilty of murder for this act. He was acting to balance the scales. I wonder if that immunity from prosecution extended to one who would sit in wait or strike the other with a tool. Did the “avenger’s” attitude impact if their right to render retribution? Where was the line between justice and revenge?
God didn’t allow the shedding of blood to go unchecked. Even Cain had to account for his crime. He wasn’t killed but his life was never the same after that act. Cain was guilty of murder under God’s Law. He acted out of malice and used a stone to end his brother’s life. But his act took place before God gave man His Law. His curse, whatever form that took, was his just punishment from God. God did NOT allow another to take Cain’s life in retaliation for his crime.
The “manslayer’s” life was forever altered too. Even though the law judged the person not guilty of murder, that person’s life would never be the same. Not only would their conscience bother them for the rest of their lives but their living situation would be altered for the foreseeable future. The person could not return home. They could not even set foot outside the city gates again. They were cut off from family and friends. They had to accept whatever role those in authority for their protection saw fit. They were essentially imprisoned for an unspecified length of time. To leave meant forfeiture of their own life.
I have a few more questions about the life of the “avenger of blood.” It appears that their mission didn’t end when the “manslayer” verdict was rendered. Numbers clearly uses the prospect of being killed by the avenger as reason for the manslayer to remain in the city of refuge. Was the avenger required to wait out the term of protection in anticipation of the offender becoming available for retribution? Or did the avenger return home and only act if the offender returned to their home city? Was this an all-consuming role or one that was assigned as an extra act of familial duty to the deceased? Was it a role that was hired out to a professional, similar to the role of a bounty hunter today?
This is NOT a job I could do no matter what the circumstances! I would feel guilty of another’s blood regardless of how the law saw my role. I can imagine circumstances where another individual SHOULD receive death because of their actions but I don’t believe I could be the one to carry out that sentence. I have always been a proponent of looking at all the sides of an issue before rendering any judgement. I also believe in leaving judgment to the Lord as I am guilty in my own rights on something. How can I, who have received mercy for my sins, take the life of another for his? I would NOT be quick to excuse the death of another by or for whatever means or reason. But I would also NOT be willing to step into the role of avenger of blood and personally enact retribution. I believe that if I were required to be in the role of avenger I would live with the decision of the people and go home to resume my life if a verdict of manslayer were rendered.
I DO NOT want to put this decision to a test! I have never lost a loved one to the crime of murder or manslaughter. I have lost a family member to the negligence of another and find it hard to justify their actions but I don’t hold them guilty of the loss of life. There is enough blame to go around for all involved and even for those who only witnessed from a distance. There is also enough grace to go around for all. THAT is where I want to lay my head to rest. On the side of mercy and grace as my Father has shown to me time and Time and TIME again.
So I’m going to rename these cities. I’m going to call them cities of mercy. God granted mercy to those who had unintentionally taken the life of another. This is the city I would be living in because of my part in Jesus’ death. I didn’t have malice in my heart when I played a part through history in His death. But God doesn’t hold me guilty for my sins that contributed to His death. He gave me mercy instead. THIS city, under His protection, I will GLADLY spend the rest of my life in!
Thank You Father God that I don’t receive justice for all the sin I have committed in my life. No. I haven’t put my hand out and killed another person. But my actions in life have wounded others. My lies have cut hearts open. My selfishness has left others without. My stubbornness has trampled others. For all those injuries and MORE I thank You for forgiveness and pray for restitution and healing.
Please heal the hurts that I have caused through my carelessness and deliberate actions. I know there have been plenty of both in my life. I pray for those I hurt. I pray they find restoration in You. I pray for their forgiveness also. For those that I have wronged Lord, let me go to them in all humility and ask for their mercy. If they hold anything against me still, I pray they bring it to me so that I can make amends in some way, even if it is only a personal apology.
Wash my heart Lord of hurts I hold against others. Let me show the same mercy and grace to those who have wronged me that You have shown me in my life. Thank You for loving me before I even knew You and authoring grace and mercy for me from the beginning of time. Help me to live in such a way that I have less need of forgiveness every day. Bring me closer to Your heart with every beat of my heart Lord Jesus.