When I first looked at Deuteronomy 19, I was not excited. This is now the third time the topic of cities of refuge has come up. But since the last post on this was a guest post, I figured it was time I took a look at it.
Soon it became clear that the chapter was saying more than what initially may have met the eye. (Imagine that as the tagline for Transformers. Transformers: More than what initially may have met the eye!) There is a larger theme of justice and protection of the innocent that began to emerge.
Accidents and Anger
There are a few ways you can kill someone in Israelite culture. One is on accident. I mean, who hasn’t killed someone by having the head fly off their axe as they chop wood and implant itself in their buddy’s skull? I do it all the time!
The other way is in cold-blooded, hot anger in revenge of that accidental axe-head killing.
One of these ways is ok. The other is not.
And the people who commit the accidents need a place to be safe while the hot/cold killer cools down/heats up/returns to room temperature.
The goal is to prevent premeditated murder. Obviously accidental death is terrible and not wished on anyone, but it is not punishable. The other kind of killing is.
The innocent need to be protected. So God provides them with cities to flee to and find safety.
Which does beg the question: How often does this happen?
Initially, there are supposed to be three of these cities. They are to be evenly spaced throughout Israel so that someone fleeing to one of them never has far to go.
But if the people obey God, he will give them three more. He will double the number of these cities to six.
Then there will be twice as many places for the innocent to be protected.
Does this continue to increase? How many of these cities will there end up being?
Is God trying to make Israel a place where the innocent will always be safe? How long until every one of their cities becomes a city of refuge?
Once Is Enough
The chapter ends, more or less, with this phrase:
So you shall purge the evil from your midst. The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you.
Many of these laws are designed to frighten (for lack of a better word) Israel into not committing these crimes. I think God intends for some of these things to be done once or twice at most, maybe not at all.
If one person commits a crime and receives the punishment, that should be enough to dissuade the rest of Israel from even thinking about it.
And if they do that, Israel will be a nation of justice for all.