A JUST SOCIETY
Lord, You are the source of all justice.
Read JOSHUA 20
Cities of Refuge
20 Then the Lord said to Joshua: 2 “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. 4 When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. 5 If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 6 They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”
7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. 9 Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘In order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people’ (Heb 2:17).
God’s instruction for cities of refuge reflects His passion for justice and the sanctity of human life. While the procedure seems strange to us in our world of sophisticated legal institutions, we should recognize in it ‘a deep respect for the value and dignity of each human being, as well as a feeling of grief and outrage when the gift of life is subject to violence and death’ (Hamlin, p131).
In the ancient world, there was a belief that murder and manslaughter pollute the land; both require atonement. It was the responsibility of the avenger of blood to achieve justice for family members (Num 35:19). The process of refuge seems to have three aims – saving the life of the fugitive, purging the guilt of innocent blood, and preventing the risk of further bloodshed (Num 35:6–34; Deut 19:1–14; cf. 2 Sam 14:11). Note that God’s concern for justice includes both the victim and manslayer. The manslayer is simultaneously innocent and guilty. While he is protected from the avenger of blood because he has not intended to kill, he is effectively a prisoner in the city of refuge because he has taken a life.
The phrase ‘until the death of the high priest’ (6) is puzzling. As the high priest was the only national official at the time, his death would represent the end of an era. Another suggestion is that the refugee was assigned to work for the high priest and would be released from the obligation upon the latter’s death. As early as Jerome (c 347–420) the difficulty of a literal interpretation led to the high priest being seen as a prophetic reference to Jesus as the high priest in a city of refuge (Jerome, Defense Against the Pelagians, 1.33, FC 53:279). As quoted above, Hebrews refers to Jesus as a faithful high priest whose death atones for our sins.
Over the years the Christian community has contributed much to the reform of penal institutions and practices. What injustices do you see in your society that you should address?
Lord, guide us as we fashion laws to deal with criminal behavior. Help our laws to reflect Your wishes along these lines.
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