“Then the Lord spoke to Moses: ‘Speak to the Israelites and tell them, “When you cross over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must then designate some towns as towns of refuge for you, to which a person who has killed someone unintentionally may flee. And they must stand as your towns of refuge from the avenger in order that the killer may not die until he has stood trial before the community. These towns that you must give shall be your six towns for refuge.”’” (Numbers 35:9-13 NET).
God is a God of mercy. We can see this in his providing towns of refuge for the Israelites. These towns were so designated to allow someone who had accidentally killed another person to be safe from any ‘avenger’ who might come after them to take their life. If they were within these towns they were safe. In more recent years church buildings have often served this same purpose as a place of sanctuary.
Even the location of these six towns of refuge shows God’s mercy and concern for his people. Three were west of the Jordan River and three were on the east (Numbers 35:14-15). If we were to locate their probable locations on a map we would also see that they were positioned in way that anyone could quickly get to one of them.
God is also a God of justice. Once they were in the town there would be a hearing to determine whether the person was innocent of murder. Even without witnesses, the circumstances surrounding the death would determine whether this were an accidental death or intentional murder (see Numbers 35:16-24). If guilty, then the person would be put to death. Justice would be done.
But if the person were innocent, he was protected from anyone who wished to avenge the death. There was a condition: he had to remain in the town of refuge until the death of the high priest. If he were found outside the town, the avenger could take his life without being guilty of murder (see Numbers 35:25-29). As long as the person was in the town, they were safe. Once again, we see mercy.
As Christians, we also experience God’s mercy and justice (and grace!). God remains a just God, which means that there had to be a price paid for our sin. Once we sin, we cannot undo it, we cannot erase it, we cannot take it back. We have sinned and have earned the wages of sin: death (Romans 6:23). But God has shown his mercy in giving us a free gift – eternal life. When we “obey from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to” we are then “freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).
God’s justice is served in that a price of blood was paid for our sin, through Jesus. God’s mercy is seen in that we are freed from sin to serve God. But there is a condition. Just as the innocent person had to remain in the town of refuge, we have to remain in Jesus. If we chose to turn our back on him and die in that condition, there is no more sacrifice for us (Hebrews 10:26). “But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
The choice we must make: do we want God’s mercy or justice?
Readings for next week:
3 April – Numbers 35
4 April – Numbers 36
5 April – Deuteronomy 1:1-25
6 April – Deuteronomy 1:26-46
7 April – Deuteronomy 2