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Bible study

Bible Study – Your city of refuge (Joshua 20:9)

Today’s Reading: Joshua 20-21

Today’s Reflection: Joshua 20:9

These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation.

What is this text saying?

After the Exodus, God gave laws and statutes to Israel through His servant Moses.  One of these laws stated: whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death (Exodus 21:24).  But as Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land, God instructed Israel to appoint cities of refuge, where someone accused of murder could plead their case and be sheltered from the death penalty until their case could be heard and judged by the people.

Why is it important?

Justice among the Israelites after the Exodus was often harsh and swift.  But this was necessarily so.  After 430 years of oppression by an ungodly culture, Israel had become corrupted with practices and beliefs contrary to God’s law.  When God set Israel free He asked if they would keep His commands, and they promised they would (Exodus 19:18).  Clear unambiguous judgment and punishment taught the children of Israel that God’s Word (and their promises to obey it) were not to be taken lightly.

As a result someone who caused the death of another would almost certainly have had judgment pronounced against them and capital punishment carried out immediately.  But 40 years later, as a new generation of Israel took possession of the Promised Land, God instructed Israel to make this merciful concession to those who took a life unintentionally.

How can I apply this?

This text shows us that God is both a God of mercy and a God of justice.  Though the time for judgment must eventually come, God is merciful enough to give the unintentional murderer an opportunity to have their side of the story heard.  But the direct application to our present situation goes much further than this.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their transgression not only invited sin into the world, it also invited death (Romans 6:23).  Spiritually, their sin caused separation between them and God, the source of their lives (Isaiah 59:2).  Immediately, it required the deaths of animals to clothe them (Genesis 3:21).  And eventually their sin would lead to their own deaths (Genesis 3:19), even though they were originally designed to live forever.  This was not Adam and Eve’s intention when they ate of the fruit, but it was the result.

Adam and Eve were unintentional murderers.

Everyone who sins is an unintentional murderer.

Including you and me.

Every transgression of God’s law invites death to continue to have dominion over this world (James 1:15).  Even the sin of murder itself spreads the curse of death far beyond the intended victim—think of the impact of the deliberate taking of a life on the victim’s family and friends.

The penalty for murderers is death, so dead we all ought to be according to God’s law.  But instead we live, because God is both just AND merciful.  There is a city of refuge for us, and it is God Himself.

2 Samuel 22:3 – The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence.

Though God stays the death penalty against us while we are under His protection, the day must come for justice.  The sad reality is we’re all guilty, and the penalty is death.  This is why Jesus died on the cross.  He came to take our place, and when the Day of Judgment comes His sacrifice will be accepted to pay the penalty for our sins IF we have chosen to accept Him as our lord and savior.  To do this we must:

  1. Go to God.  Just as the unintentional murderer needed to go to the city of refuge, we must seek out God for ourselves.
  1. Confess our sins.  Before being allowed entry to the city, the accused had to plead his case before the elders.  We need to confess our sins to God and acknowledge our wrongdoing.  Then God can restore us from our sinful ways.  The Word tells us: He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Proverbs 28:13).
  1. Stay under God’s refuge.  Those given sanctuary in the cities of refuge were warned to remain within the boundaries of the city.  If they left the city and the avenger sent to exact the death penalty found them, they would be killed and be responsible for their own deaths (Numbers 35:26-27).  When we accept God’s refuge and protection He begins to give us guidance and instruction.  But if we deliberately disobey God’s guidance and instruction, we risk the salvation God desires to provide to us.  Once saved is NOT always saved.  Each day God sets choices of eternal consequence, of life and death, before us.  I encourage each of you, every single day choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).
  1. Accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice.  Judgment will come, for the penalty for sin must be paid.  Why should you die when Jesus has already done it for you?  He does ask that you live for Him (Matthew 19:27-29), and share the good news—the Gospel—of salvation with everyone you can (Matthew 5:14-16).

Acts 16:31 – And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

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