The Lord is our Refuge, Avenger, and Justice. In this chapter of Deuteronomy Moses reminded the Israelites about God’s provisions for refuge, vengeance, and justice. There are many sins which required Israelites to be put to death, but not all of them. One such sin was manslaughter, accidental killing without malice or intent. Verses 1-3 read,
“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, 2 you shall set apart three cities for yourselves in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess. 3 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.”
They were to make three cities a safe haven for the person who had committed manslaughter. If a person found himself in that situation, he could flee to one of those cities and be safe. But there was no pleading down from murder to manslaughter. There were specific rules which made killing manslaughter and not murder. Verses 4-5 describe what manslaughter is.
“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— 5 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,”
Even an accidental death could not be considered manslaughter if the slayer had hated his victim in the past. If he had hated him in the past then the death was murder. How often do we let our anger or bitterness simmer and come out in hurtful ways? I did that very thing recently. I was upset over a situation, letting my pride take over. Although I had no intention of hurting my friend, I let my emotions rule and said something that hurt her. Perhaps that is why Jesus told us to be in control of our anger, because it can so easily turn to hateful actions and put us at risk of the punishment for murder. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Allowing anger to stew into bitterness results in hurtful actions. Love on the other results in mercy, forgiveness, and joy. Paul told us to take every thought captive to obedience (2 Corinthians 10:5). He reminded us that the Holy Spirit is in us and that the manifestation of God’s presence in us is love demonstrated as joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Of course accidental or not, with or without malice, killing hurts people. Those left behind want vengeance. They cry out for justice, but most often what they really want is vengeance. God knows this. He understands our hearts, emotions, and intentions. He did after all create us. So The Lord gave people a haven from the threat of vigilantes. Verses 6-7 read,
“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. 7 Therefore I command you, You shall set apart three cities.”
Emotion can and does affect us in ways that it should not. Anger becomes outrage and the hot headed will lash out and hurt someone thinking that it will somehow ease his pain. The cities of refuge gave the avenger an opportunity to cool down, to turn to God and understand that if he killed in anger, it would be him that was now a murderer.
Our first reaction does not have to be the one that rules us. Reacting in our hurt, will almost definitely result in sin. When we are hurt by someone, isn’t it usually our pride that let us be hurt? Whether we are the one who did the wounding or the one who was wounded turning to God is the key to being angry but not sinning. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. We are capable of holding our tongues, when Jesus holds our hearts.
And when we do need refuge Jesus is never far. He makes provision so that turning to Him is easy. Verses 8-10 read,
“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— 9 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, 10 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.”
There had to be enough cities of refuge so that there was one within fleeing distance. Refuge had to be close by. Jesus is always close to us. He is near to the broken hearted. Psalm 34:17-18 says,
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Broken heartedness is not all about feeling sad, it is more about a contrite or remorseful heart. When pride is gone, repentance and submission may take its place. Pride puts me on the throne, a crushed spirit puts The Lord on the throne. Pride leads to vengeance; but a broken heart knows that our God is Just and vengeance is His. All sin is paid for, either by the perpetrator or Jesus.
Sometimes pride will keep us from recognizing our own sin. Recently, I was talking to a friend who said something incredibly hurtful to me. I was very angry and walked away. I remained angry with him but said nothing. I waited for him to apologize. He never did. But after some time, I realized I had just as much to apologize for as he did. I had sinned too. We made up within a couple of hours. But for those hours, my pride wouldn’t allow me to see my sin, only his. Sin is sin whether we think it is intentional or not. If we hate someone, are bitter towards them, or hold onto the wounds they’ve inflicted, we will eventually let those feelings out. Passive-aggressive words hurt just as much as straightforward words. We cannot hide behind our pride and pretend to be innocent. Verses 11-13 read,
“But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities, 12 then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. 13 Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you.”
You can’t take refuge in Christ, if you have guilt on your hands. Taking refuge in Him requires your sins to be paid for. In Ancient Israel that meant letting the avenger take the life of the killer. Today it means professing Jesus as Christ and Lord of your life. When you do that with a truly penitent heart, your guilt is gone, your sins are forgiven, and you are righteous. Christ is your refuge and no one can take your life to pay for those sins, because they are atoned.
Have your sins been forgiven? If not, you can ask Jesus to forgive them right now. You can ask Him to be The Lord of your life and make you a citizen of His city of refuge. Death will no longer threaten you, because you have eternal life.
Have you let pride take over your heart? Have you refused to recognize your own sins and declare yourself innocent? If you are trying to pretend you are innocent and still take refuge in Jesus, you will find yourself turned over to the one who will avenge the blood of the innocent and you will die.