What is a life worth?
We live in a world where it seems that life is cheap. How often do we see needless killing reported on our news? How much does...What is a life worth?
We live in a world where it seems that life is cheap. How often do we see needless killing reported on our news? How much does God value a human life?
Bible passage: Deuteronomy 19:1–14
Cities of Refuge
1 When the LORD your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, 2 then set aside for yourselves three cities centrally located in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess. 3 Build roads to them and divide into three parts the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that anyone who kills a man may flee there.
4 This is the rule concerning the man who kills another and flees there to save his life—one who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. 5 For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. 6 Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. 7 This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities.
8 If the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your forefathers, and gives you the whole land he promised them, 9 because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the LORD your God and to walk always in his ways—then you are to set aside three more cities. 10 Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.
11 But if a man hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him, assaults and kills him, and then flees to one of these cities, 12 the elders of his town shall send for him, bring him back from the city, and hand him over to the avenger of blood to die. 13 Show him no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.
14 Do not move your neighbor's boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.
God’s value on human life
Unlike the bloodthirsty nations around them, Israel were to be a nation that reflected God’s value on human life.
Cities of refuge
To that end, God gave them instructions to set up three cities of refuge on the other side of the Jordan. God also told them to set up three more in the land, and if they ended up with the full land God had promised to Abraham, then they would need a further three (see vs 8–10, and also Numbers 35).
Place of safety
The city of refuge concept feels foreign to us, but it was fairly simple. If someone accidentally killed someone, perhaps in a work accident, then the city of refuge was a place of safety to prevent the killed person’s relative (the avenger of blood) from killing someone who was innocent of murder. God wanted murderers to be punished, but God did not want innocent people caught up in overzealous justice.
Protected from punishment
When we think of our situation, we are guilty and deserve to be punished, but we can run to Jesus and be protected from punishment. What’s more, since our high priest has died (see Numbers 35:25), we are living in freedom!
God had set a boundary to protect life: ‘You shall not murder’ (Deut 5:17). What is to be done when this boundary is breached? Some foundational principles of modern legal and judicial systems are evident in today’s passage.
Because God placed a high value on human life, he decreed that anyone who intentionally takes a life must pay with his life (Gen 9:6). Because life is so highly valued, he also made elaborate provisions to protect the innocent (vs 3,9) (Num 35:9–12). Ancient Israel had no police force, so an ‘avenger of blood’ (vs 6,12) – the closest male relative – was responsible for safeguarding the family property, name and honour. In ancient societies, blood revenge was the norm. God-ordained respect for life is strikingly different from a sinful desire for revenge. The avenger’s actions had to be tempered by caution and directed by justice. He could not act hastily or hatefully (v 6); nor might he proceed on his own authority, but only as empowered by a duly constituted jury of elders (v 12). He could not initiate revenge, but served as an instrument of justice, responsible for executing the sentence of an impartial court, but only after a fair trial (Num 35:12).
The passage makes the vital distinction between unintentional killing (involuntary or constructive manslaughter) – where the emphasis is on protecting the innocent (vs 4–10) – and premeditated or intentional killing (murder), where the focus is on ensuring that justice is done (vs 11–13). In both instances, the killer is entitled to flee to a city of refuge and is presumed innocent until proven guilty – a principle that continues to be upheld today, both as a legal right and as an internationally recognize human right. Justice demands both that due process is followed (Deut 19:12–19; Num 35:9–34) and that the guilty are punished (v 13).
Prayerfully reflect on Genesis 9:5 and 6, Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, Joshua 20:1–9 and Romans 13:1–4. How do these passages shape your views on the issue of capital punishment? Show more
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