In today’s reading, God commands Joshua to execute His original orders to Moses to set up the cities of refuge. These cities are for a person, who killed another accidentally or unintentionally, to flee from the avenger of blood, and seek asylum.
It is clear that murder is to be punished by death according to the Mosaic Law. (cf Exo 21:14)
Since we understand manslaughter to be differentiated from murder in the human law, does the cities of refuge cater for manslaughter?
So this got me interested to read about the different degrees of manslaughter, especially after coming across the controversial case of “blade runner” who fired 4 shots through a locked toilet door and killed his girlfriend.
There are quite a few degrees of manslaughter in the law of court, and it varies from country to country. But broadly, we can read about them in Wikipedia. There are voluntary vs involuntary manslaughter, and then involuntary is divided into two categories again – constructive manslaughter vs criminally negligent manslaughter. But accidental death is differentiated from manslaughter. I suppose unintentional killing includes accidental death and involuntary manslaughter.
The Bible is not without further elaborations and examples of what God sees as unintentional killings. We can read about them in Numbers 35 and Deut 19.
God’s law as written in the Old Testament, provides protection for those who committed unintentional sin. It is also the purpose of the Sin Offering, even as it sounds; it is to offer for unintentional sin. There is no offering for intentional sin.
Even the New Testament tells us about no forgiveness for intentional sin.
“26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
I find it interesting how Solomon applied the concept of the city of refuge on Shimei when he placed him under “house arrest”. He would have been spared death if he did not depart from Jerusalem.
It is not my first impression to relate the cities of refuge to seeking refuge in Jesus, as many commentaries say. I would say that the Bronze Altar in the Tabernacle is more representative of seeking refuge in Jesus. The cities are catered for a manslayer who had no intention to kill, while Jesus is a refuge to all, including the guilty, even a murderer, who have come to know that they are worthy of death, yet seeks mercy and a new life.
So while all sinners can come to Jesus for refuge, let us be reminded that Jesus’ command is for sinners to repent to receive His grace, not sinners who give themselves excuses to sin over and over again. There is boundary to grace as we can learn from the cities of refuge. Once we have entered into the grace of Jesus, let us not overstep the boundaries, beyond which judgment would be imminent.
“In God is my salvation and my glory; The rock of my strength, And my refuge, is in God.” (Ps 62:7)
Our God has given us a second chance. Let us take hold of this chance and repent from our mistakes in the past and to hold onto His salvation grace.