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The Place of Refuge

Words of Faith Final

The Place of Refuge

Words of Faith 10-1-2020

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2020

Jeff.Hoy@faithfellowshipweb.com

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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Joshua 20

    Then the Lord said to Joshua: [2] "Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, [3] so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.

    [4] "When he flees to one of these cities, he is to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state his case before the elders of that city. Then they are to admit him into their city and give him a place to live with them. [5] If the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not surrender the one accused, because he killed his neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. [6] He is to stay in that city until he has stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then he may go back to his own home in the town from which he fled."

    [7] So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. [8] On the east side of the Jordan of Jericho they designated Bezer in the desert on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. [9] Any of the Israelites or any alien living among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.

 

       With the land promised by God subdued, Joshua carefully divided the new land among the tribes (ch. 13-19).  One special task was establishing the cities of refuge. 

        One of the first ordinances after the Ten Commandments provided for the future establishment of cities of refuge (Ex. 21:12-13). These cities are discussed in four books of the Old Testament and provided the basis for our modern criminal justice system.  They were a place to get a fair hearing, just verdict, and restoration to the community.  To put an end to a person's life, even if done unintentionally, is a serious thing.  The cities of refuge helped to discover the truth in such situations.  

         This is not the same as the modern concept of “Sanctuary Cities,” which shield criminal from prosecution. But the cities of refuse were designed to afford a place for a fair hearing and trial.

        The ancient world was geared to the practice of blood revenge.  The moment a person was killed, his nearest relative took responsibility for the vengeance. This vendetta was often handed down from one generation to another such that large numbers of innocent people died violently. The provision of the cities of refuge sought to break the cycle of violence and create a justice system.

        A clear distinction is made in the Hebrew scripture between premeditated murder and accidental manslaughter (Num. 35:9-15 with Num. 35:16-21). In the case of premeditated murder, the nearest kinsman became the avenger of blood, killing the guilty party. But if a person killed another accidentally, he was provided a place of asylum in one of six cities of refuge. Such a person would rush to the nearest place of shelter without delay.

       According to Jewish tradition, the roads leading to these cities were kept in excellent condition.  The crossroads were well marked with signposts reading, "Refuge! Refuge!" Runners were also stationed along the way to guide the fugitives. Great effort was made to protect a person's life even if they were guilty of a lesser crime.

       Having arrived at the gate of a refuge city, an alleged manslayer was to present his case to the elders of that city.  This formed an ancient court of law (Job 29:7; Deut. 21:19; 22:15).  A preliminary decision would then be made to grant asylum until a trial could be held in the assembly's presence.  This forms the basis of a modern-day arraignment hearing or Grand jury. 

       If an accused person was acquitted of premeditated murder, he was returned to the city of refuge where he lived till the high priest died, after which the manslayer was free to return to his home. That could be many years later.

       Involuntary manslaughter was, therefore, something to be carefully avoided. The change in priestly administration served as a statute of limitations ending the fugitive's exile in the city of refuge.

       Cities of refuge speak to us of the justice and grace of God.  These cities formed a biblical foundation of our modern civil right to a fair and unbiased trial.  They were a mechanism by which a person who was guilty of a crime could be restored to the community.  They were a place where uninvolved parties would listen fairly to a dispute, break a cycle of violence and point a person toward the future. 

       Frankly, the city of refuge sounds a great deal like a great model for the church!  The church is certainly involved primarily in making disciples of all people-- but it is also a place for the broken, hurting, condemned, and accused.  While the church is not generally involved in criminal justice, it can certainly be a place of refuge for guilt-ridden people seeking to put their lives back together.  We could think of it as a "Church of Refuge," where there is a listening ear at the gate and a nonjudgmental attitude within. 

        Historically, the church has often missed the mark on this.  Through the centuries, the church has often been a place of judgment and inquisition rather than a place of refuge and restoration.  This is not the spirit of Jesus. 

        Jesus was consistently a person of refuge to the accused and broken.  With the Spirit of Jesus, the church can be a place of restoration rather than condemnation.  The church can be a haven for sinners needing grace and mercy rather than a place of accusation and self-righteousness.  The church can help break the cycles of emotional, spiritual, and physical brokenness that plague the human condition.

         Maybe most important is that we be "people of refuge."  Are we people who lend an unbiased ear?  Do we minister reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21).  Do we offer refuge in the grace and mercy of Jesus so that people can be restored?

 

        Father, help us as the Body of Christ to be a place of refuge.  Help me to be a person of refuge.  Give me a listening ear for those who are in pain and have caused pain.  Give me grace and mercy to be a minister of reconciliation and restoration.  In Jesus' name.  

 

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© Jeffrey D. Hoy 2005, 2020

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy - Faith Fellowship Church (EFCA)       

2820 Business Center Blvd.

Melbourne, Florida 32940 (321)-259-7200

Jeff.Hoy@faithfellowshipweb.com

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The Words of Faith devotion is published five days a week by E-mail excluding Federal holidays. Please feel free to forward this devotion to a friend who might be blessed by this devotion. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from the New International Version (R) of The Holy Bible. Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. Words of Faith (c) 1997, 2010 Jeffrey D. Hoy. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward this copyrighted material or use portions of it with appropriate notation of the source for non-profit purposes.