“The LORD also spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “Appoint for yourselves cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses”.’” – Joshua 20:1-2
In the ancient world the rule of “an eye for an eye” prevailed. Whenever an injustice was done, an “avenger of blood” was appointed to make sure that someone paid for the crime. With the cities of refuge, God sets a higher standard of justice for Israel. Anyone who killed a man accidentally could flee to the nearest city of refuge and be safe until a preliminary hearing could be held (verse 4). He is to be presumed innocent until a trial before his peers can take place (verse 6).
If the fugitive’s story does not stand up, he is given to the avenger of blood for punishment. If the killing was indeed accidental, then the man-slayer would be allowed to live, but he had to remain in the city away from family and friends as punishment for not properly safeguarding his neighbour’s life. Only upon the “death of the high priest” was he free to return back to his home.
Two truths are seen here. First, our God is the God of life! Because man is created in the image of God, all life matters to Him and should be protected by us. Second, is imputation. In God’s eyes, the High Priest’s death substitutes for the offender’s death, and he is allowed to go home. This foreshadows the work of our Great High Priest. God looks upon Jesus’ death and credits us with righteousness, so that we are allowed to go “home” into the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Suggestions for prayer
Thank the Lord that in His Divine Justice He looks upon our Substitute and imputes our sin to Him and His righteousness to us. Ask that God’s justice would be known more and more across this land.