Isn’t it good to have a place to go when life tumbles in? Isn’t it nice to have a place of refuge where we know we are safe and don’t have to worry about anything? God provided such a place for the Israelites, in particular when someone had accidentally killed someone else.
“Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. 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. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbour unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 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.” (Joshua 20:2-6 NIV)
During that time there was a person known as ‘the avenger of blood’. This was someone who would seek to kill you because you had killed someone in their family. Think about the Hatfields and McCoys in the United States: someone from one family killed someone in the other family, possibly over the disputed ownership of a pig, and it went back and forth for almost fifteen years with over a dozen killed from both families and many imprisoned and one executed. It is easy for such situations to quickly get out of hand!
God seems to have anticipated this and provided a refuge, a safe haven, for someone who accidentally killed someone else. There were six towns designated throughout Israel to which someone could flee and be protected from the avenger of blood. There were three east of the Jordan river and three to the west. No matter where you were in Israel, you could get to a town of refuge within a few days at the most.
Once they arrived at the town they made their case and the elders would admit them. If the avenger of blood showed up they would not turn the person over to them – they were safe in the designated towns. But notice that the town elders did not just take the person’s word that it was an accident and they were innocent: there would also be a trial to establish the facts. If found innocent the fugitive had to reside in that town until the death of the high priest. If they were guilty they would be dealt with as a murderer (see Numbers 35).
God’s provision prevented innocent people being killed and feuds escalating. He provided a refuge for those who were innocent.
If you think about it, God still provides this for people today – the difference being that he provides a safe haven for the guilty because we are all guilty of sin. But because we are guilty we can flee to him and “take hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18). Through Jesus’ death God has given us forgiveness which gives us hope. In Jesus our sins are taken away and we no longer live under the condemnation of sin; we now look forward to eternal life with Jesus.
God’s people today should be communities of refuge, places where the struggling can come and find the hope that we have through Jesus.
Image generated by AI by Barbara Roste from pixabay.com
Readings for next week: Joshua 15-21