God instructs His people to set aside cities for the Levites. Six of these cities are cities of refuge for anyone who accidentally kills someone.
The Levites are not to be given an inheritance among the other tribes. They will not personally possess land in their own names or even their family’s name. Instead they are to be given cities scattered throughout the lands of their brothers. These cities will be where they live and raise their families. There is also to be pasture land around the cities for their use. One could rightly say that these cities and lands belonged to God. They were His possession and not to be sold.
Moses is told that there will be 48 cities given to the Levites. Every tribe will have at least one such city in their territory. Bigger tribes will have more of these cities and smaller tribes will have fewer. I believe God did it this way so no one would be so far away from His earthly representatives that they couldn’t seek their counsel in times of need. This kept the people in close contact with God.
Six of these cities were special. Three were to be on each side of the Jordan. We are not told in whose territories these cities would reside, only that they were to be a refuge. These cities were for anyone who wanted to live there. They were a safe place for anyone who killed another person accidentally. “These six cities shall be for refuge for the people pf Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there” (verse 15).
This was NOT a place where they could avoid judgement or for someone to go if they purposefully killed another. The person who shed blood had to account for it. If it was an accident then they would be judged by the congregation. If they were found not guilty of killing with intent then they had to remain in this city to be safe. If they purposefully killed another then this city held NO protection for them.
For a person who was murdered, their blood would be avenged by their next of kin. This person was the “Blood Avenger.” He had the right to pay back blood for blood. NO ONE who willfully killed another could escape this sentence. There was no refuge to be had. This person also had the right to avenge the blood of their kin against someone who accidentally killed. But the sentence for this kind of crime could not be carried out within the cities of refuge. The avenger could only demand blood if the person left the safety of the city. The avenger could legally lie in wait for the perpetrator to come out.
I like that God put in His word that NO ONE could get away with murder by paying someone off. Also no one could pay for someone who committed manslaughter to go free ahead of time. You couldn’t buy your way out of either crime. The one who committed manslaughter, unintentional killing of another, had to remain in the city of refuge until the reigning high priest died. Only then were they free to go back to their families.
God gets very specific on the difference between voluntary and involuntary killing. If you had a tool in your hand and struck someone in anger or out of revenge and they died, you were a murderer. If you threw something at someone in anger and it struck them and killed them, you were a murderer. It didn’t matter if you meant to kill them when you struck them or threw something at them. If they died you were guilty of murder. BUT if you accidentally ran over someone or didn’t see them when you were chucking a stone out of the way and they died as a result, you are a manslayer instead.
Jesus later said that having hatred in your heart towards your brother is guilty as would be someone who murdered. That is a HARD pill to swallow! I don’t remember if this was a rule in my house growing up or only with my children but they were not allowed to say they hated one another. They were allowed to express anger with the behaviors of their brothers and sister, just not allowed to harbor hate towards the person.
Jesus also forgave those who murdered Him. The religious leaders didn’t kill Him with their own hands but they were guilty of His blood just the same. God could have demanded their blood in exchange for their shedding Jesus’ blood. But God set that whole plan in action and He used their hands to do His work. I’m just as guilty of His blood since it was my sins He took to the cross.
I know Jesus tells us that He forgives ALL our sins except the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. So this list includes murder. He paid the death penalty for anyone who comes to Him in true repentance. But for those who refuse His substitution their death is still the price required by God. Hard but true.
Lord Jesus, thank You for paying my penalty. I have not killed a person but I have had hate towards some in my heart. Thank You for taking that hate away! I couldn’t do it alone. Thank You for paying for ALL my sins. Help me be a light for others who are searching for forgiveness for their sins too. Thank You too that it isn’t my place to judge others sincerity in their repentance. That rests solely in Your hands.