Thursday, November 4, 2010

cities of refuge

These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation.
Joshua 20:9

God cares about the most extreme human situations. In the case of accidental manslaughter, He designed specific places where the accused party could find a "neutral corner" to settle out the specifics of the case. This is somewhat similar to our concept of "change of venue", except that under the OT Law, the family who lost the family member had a duty to track down the killer and avenge the murder. So it would be easy for emotion to overcome the facts. The cities of refuge were a place to sort out the case. The ESV Study Bible gives a great summary of the concept as it was initiated under Moses and brought into practice by Joshua:

Josh. 20:1–2. The fullest description of how the cities of refuge are to function appears in Num. 35:6–34, where the Lord expands on his initial instructions to Moses in Ex. 21:12–14. They are to be six in number, chosen among the Levitical cities, with three on each side of the Jordan (Num. 35:13–14). They are to guarantee judicial due process for anyone in Israel, including “the stranger” and “the sojourner” (Num. 35:15). In Deut. 4:41–43 Moses designates by name the three cities of refuge in the newly conquered territory east of the Jordan, one each in the territories of Reuben, Gad, and eastern Manasseh. Later, in Deut. 19:1–10, he charges Israel regarding the cities to be designated west of the Jordan, though he does not name them, as the land is yet to be conquered. They are to be appropriately spaced, so that the fugitive can reach the nearest one before being overtaken by the avenger (Deut. 19:3; and see note on Josh. 20:3). Should God enlarge Israel's territory, an additional three cities can be designated (Deut. 19:8–9). That the additional three are not mentioned in Joshua may hint at the fact that Israel was not entirely successful in taking over all the land. The three cities west of the Jordan are finally named in Josh. 20:7. This overall progression is in keeping with the geographical movements of Israel and the extent of the conquest at each stage.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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