Friday, February 20, 2009

about murder He wrote...

The final verses of Numbers, chapters 33 through 36, lead us to reflect on the wilderness journey and all that it involved just before God begins to instruct his children regarding how to divide the land of Canaan between the tribes. In the 35th chapter, God explains where the Levites will live and then establishes something called cities of refuge for people who accidentally kill another person.

Reading through these verses, several things become clear. To begin with, God acknowledged that the potential for accidental killing existed, and that the accused would be in grave danger once the surviving family members became aware of the victim's death. As a result, he required them to have six safe cities so that there was always one nearby regardless of where the accident happened. Interestingly, these cities were not just for the Israelites, but God specified that they were also for any foreigners living among them, and for any traveling merchant.

After clarifying the purpose of the cities of refuge, God explained the difference between killing and murder. Basically, all murder is killing, but not all killing is murder--and the penalty for each was different. Additionally, the accused could not be convicted of murder based on the testimony of just one witness.

It seems that based on Genesis 9 verse 6 (If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image.) each family had a designated "avenger" who was responsible for executing the death penalty against their family member's murderer. But if a killing happened accidentally, the city of refuge would serve as a safe haven.

God then explained to his people exactly how they could determine whether an actual murder had taken place so that innocent people would not receive the death penalty in the event of an unfortunate accident. It's important to note that the only place the killer could be completely safe from the "avenger of blood" was within the city of refuge. The killing, even if it was a tragic accident, profoundly affected the one who was responsible for the death because he had to leave his family, his friends, and his town and remain in the safe haven, or else he was no longer considered protected.

Last night, my heart broke as I watched the evening news and saw the mother of a local teenager who was murdered two years ago express her grief that his killer had not been found or brought to justice. She said that although losing her son had been devastating, the grief she felt that there was still no one to punish was almost too much to bear.

At a party, in a room filled with other teenagers, someone shot this young man in cold blood. Twenty-four months later, not one of those at the party has talked. No one has confessed. The murder was senseless, violent, and abhorent, yet someone who did this still walks our city streets as a free person.

Verses 30 through 35 of Numbers 35 explain what God mandated regarding murderers: 30 “All murderers must be put to death, but only if evidence is presented by more than one witness. No one may be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 31 Also, you must never accept a ransom payment for the life of someone judged guilty of murder and subject to execution; murderers must always be put to death. 32 And never accept a ransom payment from someone who has fled to a city of refuge, allowing a slayer to return to his property before the death of the high priest. 33 This will ensure that the land where you live will not be polluted, for murder pollutes the land. And no sacrifice except the execution of the murderer can purify the land from murder. 34 You must not defile the land where you live, for I live there myself. I am the Lord, who lives among the people of Israel.”

God said it: Murder pollutes the land. It defiles a nation. It destroys lives. Yet in our country today there are those who have forgotten these principles and have failed to acknowledge the pain of the victims in favor instead of the "rights" of the criminal.

The Lord never proposed heartlessly unjust punishment against anyone who might be innocent--but he never discouraged the death penalty for those who have no regard for human life and its value. Scripture is replete with reminders of the tremendous value God places on human life.

Reading these Old Testament books is fascinating. These chapters are filled with pictures of God's redemptive plan that culminated in Jesus Christ's resurrection. Here are a few examples worth noting:

*The city of refuge was to be for everyone, not just the children of Israel. ~ Jesus Christ came to seek and save ALL the lost. (Luke 19:10)

*No one would be turned away from the city of refuge. ~ ALL who call upon the name of Jesus will be saved. (Acts 2:21)

*There was certain death at the hands of the avenger if one did not escape to the city of refuge. ~ In Christ, we escape the penalty of death and find our refuge from permanent punishment. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

But there is one major difference that I can see between the city of refuge and the refuge offered us in Christ Jesus. The city of refuge was only for the innocent, Jesus gives refuge to the guilty. And oh how thankful I am for the refuge I have in Christ alone.

"Under His wings, oh, what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life's trials are o'er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Jesus, I'm safe evermore."

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