Numbers 35: A Prison Run By The Prisoners (Guest post by Mandy Broughton)

Today’s guest post is by Mandy Broughton.
Mandy Broughton is a nerdy girl who loved school (M.A. in Clinical Psychology and M.A. in Christian Education).  But as much as she loved school, she loves reading more.  So with that thought in mind, she is attempting to make this “writing thing” a go.  She writes mysteries and sci-fi but the Bible is her passion.  For the record, while it is true she has spent more money on books than groceries, it only happened once.  And due to the great invention of peanut butter sandwiches, her husband did not starve that month. is her micro-Bible study on
random topics posted at random times.  And is her Monday through Friday
daily devotional blog.


Numbers 35 begins a guide to city planning.  GOD tells the twelve tribes to donate land for cities for their priestly brethren.  GOD encourages the children of Israel to refrain from greediness, by giving specific measurements for the cities and pastures.  “Oh, and make it an even forty-eight cities,” He says (my really bad paraphrase).

And then the chapter gets interesting.  The Law is clear on what happens to murderers (straight to death, do not pass go, do not collect $200).  But what about accidental murders?  Unintentional manslaughter—what happens then?  Isn’t Old Testament Law harsh and unyielding?  Do circumstances even matter?

An amazing thing happens.  With death, GOD tells the people to look at motive.  If someone strikes out in anger—possibly at Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe in the library—and kills someone, it’s curtains for the murderer.  But what if someone gets the bright idea to take said lead implement and toss it as high as they can in the air.  “Maybe I can hit the moon?” they imagine.  “No, higher this time.”  Well, eventually gravity does its thing and plop—innocent bystander has been Isaac Newtoned in the head and is no more.   What happens then?  Jacob Innocent Bystander is still dead.  Perpetrator?  Dead too?

No.  The people have a trial.  After all someone has bitten the dust or rather had the bucket kick them.  Oh, and we need at least two witnesses because one isn’t enough!  After all, it is a death penalty trial.  If the killer is found guilty of acting stupidity and not premeditated murder, then they won’t be killed.  Excellent.  But what if Mr. Bystander’s relatives want their vengeance?

Fortunately, our awesome CITY PLANNER foresaw this.  Outlined in the plan are six are Cities of Refuge taken from the forty-eight Levitical cities.

“If they decide that you are innocent, you will be protected from the victim’s relative and sent to stay in one of the Safe Towns until the high priest dies.  But if you ever leave the Safe Town, and are killed by the victim’s relative, he cannot be punished for killing you” (Numbers 35:25-27 CEV).

Bold move.  Accidents are not rewarded with death.  Living with other accidental murderers, yes.  Death, no.  I see it now, though, our accidentally murderer waving his hand.  “Mr. High Priest, may I purchase a ‘get out of jail free’ card?”

No.  GOD makes it clear.  There is no payment.  There is no bribery.  When a life is taken, accidentally, it results in a new address.  Want to live?  Stay in the town.  Want to go home?  Expect a visit from Jacob Bystander’s relative to turn out badly.

What does Numbers 35 tell us?  GOD takes care of the details.  The Levites did not have land of their own.  GOD provided cities for them.  Murderers?  GOD asks that circumstances be examined.  Prisoners in the Cities of Refuge?  It is their choice: to stay is to live, to leave is to taunt death.  Did we just see an example of justice tempered with mercy?

7 responses

  1. Great Post Mandy! Thank you for pointing out where God is being merciful. Sometimes in my reading I overlook it, but always come back with a ‘thank you, God’ when it is pointed out! Good luck with your writing!

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