If you’ve spent any time watching crime dramas on television, the idea of a “safe house” is familiar. A step even greater than this would be witness protection. These are the images that came to mind for me. However, a city of refuge is quite different. A city of refuge is the designated location intended protect the guilty not the innocent.
The extent of guilt is what comes into question. And this is not the simply the internal emotion of guilt but the “I’m in trouble for doing something wrong” kind of guilt. You might ask, would a court of law find me guilty? There again, the city of refuge is meant to protect the one who killed another “by accident.”
Accidental deaths must have happened frequently in Joshua’s day because God felt it necessary to have multiple cities designated as safe places. It is also apparent that the culture here is different from what experience today. It sounds as if it’s a life for a life (like an eye for an eye). If someone kills your family member, whether it’s on purpose or by accident, there is no time for questioning. That someone has a death sentence on their head.
The cities of refuge would be places you could flee if you accidentally killed your friend while cleaning your gun, for example. Your friend’s family would be hot on your trail to do you in, but the gatekeepers at the city of refuge would keep you safe.
You might be safe for a while, but it was indefinite. Justice would be served. And you would be required to stay in the city until there was a change in leadership. All the details and rules are spelled out nicely here in our reading. “But the slayer must stay in that city and be tried by the local assembly, which will render a judgment. And he must continue to live in that city until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the accident. After that, he is free to return to his own home in the town from which he fled.”
What do you think about this arrangement? Interesting to be sure. I suppose it avoids additional wrongful death. “In this way, they could escape being killed in revenge prior to standing trial before the local assembly.” Without the city of refuge, there would be more bloodshed of innocent blood.
What strikes me is that this would be a city that should have a good support system set up. These escapees would be homeless, jobless, friendless, and dealing with a lot of trauma related emotions. I see this as an act of a God who provides. How is God providing for your needs today?
Let’s pray … Lord, I continue to be astounded by how you provide in such magnificent ways for your children. Please forgive me for taking your grace for granted. I know there are times that I just go through the motions. Make my heart steadfast and true. In Jesus’ name. Amen.