March 5 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“…select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial…” ~Numbers 35:11-12

Numbers 35 contains a curious section on cities of refuge that is ultimately a treatise on how Israel must handle murder both accidental and deliberate. The concern over murder is particularly salient within the historical context of the ancient Near East. Canaanite culture was violent, and murder, war, and infanticide were commonplace. These evil practices “polluted the land, “ and God refuses to allow that to continue (Num. 35:33).

Therefore, in ancient Israel, measures are put into place to insure that justice is applied appropriately and righteously. Those who brought harm accidently are to be given safe haven in cities of refuge. This is still a punishment of sorts, but it was also an act of mercy. Anyone accused of murder receives a trial that includes gathering appropriate evidence (including witnesses) in order to protect against false accusations. Even in the New Testament period, the discipline of church members requires witnesses (Matt. 18:15-20). (Anyone who has ever been falsely accused of anything can appreciate how important this measure is.) Is the process perfect? No. But these measures promote justice and protect the land from God’s judgment.

Concern for human life is rooted in the creation narrative. God created man in His image (Gen. 1:27), which makes striking a fellow human being tantamount to sacrilege! We are to do nothing that brings harm to living, breathing images of God, neither murder of the body with our hands nor injury to reputations or emotions with our tongues (see Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9). When a church, a nation, or a culture takes violence lightly, God is displeased. While only the state has the right to impose maximum penalties (like prison or death), the modern church has a responsibility to speak against wrongdoing. When necessary, the church should act by putting people outside of the community who intend to bringing harm to others in word or deed (Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13). Some people call this cruel, but God calls it justice! And justice is important to Him!

How often I hear people in the Christian community talk of mercy but ignore justice. God loves both and so should we, and we should see that both are enacted on behalf of victims and repentant perpetrators (Micah 6:8). Yes, violence against those created in God’s image (regardless of who they are) should be intolerable to us. Such things were so repugnant to God that violent offenders were to be eliminated![1] However, when people repent of evil practices and acts, mercy that does not pervert justice is called for.

As the Israelites prepare to enter the land of promise, God charges them to be a people characterized by peace, love, respect and justice. He expects the same of us today because those attributes bring glory to His name.

[1]Modern interpreters differ on whether the Old Testament should be used as an argument for the death penalty. Execution was the preferred punishment for various crimes in the ancient world.   What is clear is that murder was (and is) to be taken very seriously. In the present day, stiff penalties are still in order.

Lectio Divina  is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of  Calvary Church  in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of  A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.