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No Rushing to Judgment

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No Rushing to Judgment

Cities of refuge demonstrate the grace of God’s Law.

Deuteronomy 19:1-10

 “‘When the LORD your God cuts off the nations whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses, you shall set apart three cities for yourselves in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess. You shall measure the distances and divide into three parts the area of the land that the LORD your God gives you as a possession, so that any manslayer can flee to them. “This is the provision for the manslayer, who by fleeing there may save his life. If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past—as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live, lest the avenger of blood in hot anger pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and strike him fatally, though the man did not deserve to die, since he had not hated his neighbor in the past. Therefore I command you, you shall set apart three cities. And if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land that he promised to give to your fathers—provided you are careful to keep all this commandment, which I command you today, by loving the LORD your God and by walking ever in his ways—then you shall add three other cities to these three, lest innocent blood be shed in your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, and so the guilt of bloodshed be upon you.’”

Israelites were not allowed to “rush to judgment” in a vengeful or passionate manner. Those guilty of manslaughter, as opposed to premeditated murder, were given safe haven. There would be punishment in this, of course—separation from family and friends, limited mobility, having to find a means of supporting oneself, and so forth—but the death penalty would be averted, and justly so.

These cities of refuge would stand as a continuous reminder both of the justice and grace of God and would encourage all members of the nation to honor the Law and keep all the commandments of God. The purpose of these was to avoid the shedding of innocent blood, which would itself have added guilt to the nation. The punishment of one assigned to a city of refuge would be sufficient. His willingness to abide there until the death of the high priest would signal to all that he was innocent of murder but willing to accept punishment for his part in the untimely death of a neighbor.

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In the Gates is a devotional series on the Law of God by Rev. T. M. Moore, editor of the Worldview Church. He serves as dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of twenty books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet).

Scripture quotations in this article are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (c) copyright 2001, 2007 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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