I have written a few times before about the cities of refuge in Israel, and today is another time to do that. Joshua chapter 20 is a discussion between God and Joshua about these cities.
Jos 20:9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.
I think that this clearly emphasizes that God is truly a God of justice. I see that particularly in the final part of this verse. The direct purpose of these cities was to allow people who may have unintentionally killed someone a safe place to wait until the trial.
God put this system in place to establish some type of justice. He wanted to make sure that people were not dying unnecessarily. He wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime rather than an overreaction by an angry relative.
Although I don’t have a lot of experience with this, I would assume that if a close family member or relative died in some type of accident, it would be incredibly easy to blame whoever was with my relative at that time. That blame can lead to anger which can lead to crimes being committed.
God decided to eliminate this problem. By providing these cities, the justice system had time to work. He wanted people to be accountable for what they did, but he also wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime.
This takes us right back to something I wrote a few months ago about the idea of an eye for an eye. God loves justice, and that implies fairness. The punishment cannot be exponentially greater than the crime, and that punishment needs to be done through the legal system and the congregation rather than one person taking the law into his or her own hand.
Numbers chapter 35 really made me think about the fact that we have a God who is entirely in touch with human emotion.
This chapter is essentially laying out the concept of the cities of refuge.
Num 35:10 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan;
Num 35:11 Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares.
Num 35:12 And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.
These cities would allow people to be protected from any people that might come and hunt them after an accidental death. For example, I would assume that a comparable situation would be a person who dies when someone cuts down a tree.
Obviously, that would be an incredibly tragic circumstance, but there would be absolutely no malicious intent in this accident. However, perhaps the brother of one who passed away would want to seek vengeance. The cities of refuge would allow the one person to remain safe until an official trial could take place.
This particularly stood out to me because God understood that people will not always act rationally. Even though the aforementioned situation was purely accidental, when people are grieving, it is sometimes hard to really consider what happened. He obviously understood this tendency in human beings.
I have heard people criticize God for being out of touch with reality. Some people argue that even if there is a God, He cannot possibly understand what I am going through. They don’t understand that not only has God wired all of us as the Creator of humanity, but when we read passages like this, it seems clear that He understands human emotion as well. He understands how people act when they are hurting. He understands that people do things that they shouldn’t.
He is also not excusing these accidental deaths. The people still needed to stand trial. That speaks to the justice of God. However, through the cities, many murders were prevented. I know this is not a happy thought or theme whatsoever, but I think it does demonstrate once again how God knows and loves us.