The Safe Towns
(Numbers 35.9-15; Deuteronomy 19.1-13)
1 One day the Lord told Joshua:
2When Moses was still alive, I commanded him to tell the Israelites about the Safe Towns. Now you tell them that it is time to set up these towns. 3-4If a person accidentally kills someone and the victim's relatives say it was murder, they might try to take revenge. Anyone accused of murder can run to one of the Safe Towns and be safe from the victim's relatives. The one needing protection will stand at the entrance to the town gate and explain to the town leaders what happened. Then the leaders will bring that person in and provide a place to live in their town.
5One of the victim's relatives might come to the town, looking for revenge. But the town leaders must not simply hand over the person accused of murder. After all, the accused and the victim had been neighbors, not enemies. 6The citizens of that Safe Town must come together and hold a trial. They may decide that the victim was killed accidentally and that the accused is not guilty of murder.
Everyone found not guilty must still live in the Safe Town until the high priest dies. Then they can go back to their own towns and their homes that they had to leave behind.
7The Israelites decided that the following three towns west of the Jordan River would be Safe Towns:
Kedesh in Galilee in Naphtali's hill country, Shechem in Ephraim's hill country, and Kiriath-Arba in Judah's hill country. Kiriath-Arba is now called Hebron.
8The Israelites had already decided on the following three towns east of the Jordan River:
Bezer in the desert flatlands of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead, which was a town that belonged to Gad, and Golan in Bashan, which belonged to Manasseh.
9These Safe Towns were set up, so that if Israelites or even foreigners who lived in Israel accidentally killed someone, they could run to one of these towns. There they would be safe until a trial could be held, even if one of the victim's relatives came looking for revenge.
What did you do when you were in a trouble as a child? Or what did you do when you were accused of something that you had actually done but were imputed motives that were not true or intent that was not present. I went to the closet in my bedroom. I do not know why but for some reason it felt like a safe space to me. Maybe everything would settle down or at least the immediacy would be tempered.
This is what God is offering as he asks Joshua to designate a number of cities as cities of refuge. It was a desire to provide a place for those who accidentally or unintentionally killed someone. This was an ‘eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ kind of world. It was not likely that anyone had the subtlety to consider a person’s intent. Taking life under any circumstances implied guilt and atonement was required. These cities of refuge provided a space between avengers and the accused so that justice and fairness could prevail. They also provided grace.
These cities of refuge serve as a reminder to us. We all need places of refuge – whether the closet of my childhood or the cities of refuge in the Old Testament. In the deepest sense these cities of refuge for us who follow Jesus have been replaced with Jesus himself. Our refuge is in Christ, in our innocence and our guilt, he is the place of rest and safety. Just as God initiated the cities of refuge in Joshua’s time, he has initiated the place of refuge in Jesus. “For God so loved the world, that he gave us his only Son…”
God of the powerless, the marginalized, the guilty and the innocent, we confess our need for your refuge this day. We confess that without you we are without hope and without grace. Today, pour out your love upon us so that we might live in the safety of your refuge. Grant us your Spirit so life is possible in the security of the knowledge of your love and care. We pray through Jesus, Amen.