Reading through the Bible together

Saturday, September 15, 2012

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As in so many other chapters we’ve looked at, God’s instructions are specific and detailed. The promised land was to be divided and each tribe was to receive a section, except for the tribe of Levi. The Levites were the priests who were to minister to the entire nation. Thus God designed that they should live among the tribes. A total of 48 cities were to be assigned to the tribe of Levi. Six of these were to be designated as cities of refuge.


“The cities of refuge were so distributed as to be within a half day's journey of every part of the land. The roads leading to them were always to be kept in good repair; all along the way signposts were to be erected bearing the word ‘Refuge’ in plain, bold characters, that the fleeing one might not be delayed for a moment” (PP 515). What was the purpose of these cities of refuge? Suppose you are chopping wood with a friend and your ax head flies off the handle and kills him. This would be an act of murder or manslaughter (see Deut 19:5). For such an act your friend’s relative might seek revenge by killing you, but you could escape by fleeing to a city of refuge. As long as you lived there your life would be preserved.


There is no guesswork when it comes to asking what God meant by murder. This chapter carefully defines the difference between murder and manslaughter. Murder is killing motivated by hatred and anger. Manslaughter is an accidental killing of human life. There was grace for a death caused by accident. But murder committed from a motive of hatred and anger was to always receive the death penalty, provided there were at least two witnesses. Hatred is sin in one of its worst forms for it is instigated and propagated by the devil. According to Jesus, those who participate in hatred and anger are guilty of murder accordingly. “You’ve heard the scribes and Pharisees tell you not to kill, and that if you do, you’ll be held liable by the courts for committing murder. They’re right. But I’m telling you that even if you don’t kill, but you hate someone so much that you could kill him, you’ll be held liable by the heavenly court the same as if you had committed murder. To go a step further, if you treat someone with contempt because you think you’re better than they are, you can never be given eternal life” (Matt 5:21­22 Clear Word).


The underlying issue here is not so much murder vs. manslaughter, but hatred vs. love. If a person is bent on hatred and anger what else can God do to save such an individual? What more could God have done to reclaim Lucifer? The act of murder demonstrates a rejection of God’s grace and a resistance to the pleading of the Holy Spirit. God’s aim in instituting capital punishment was to limit hatred and murder among His chosen people.


“The safety and purity of the nation demanded that the sin of murder be severely punished. Human life, which God alone could give, must be sacredly guarded. The cities of refuge appointed for God’s ancient people were a symbol of the refuge provided in Christ. The same merciful Saviour who appointed those temporal cities of refuge has by the shedding of His own blood provided for the transgressors of God's law a sure retreat, into which they may flee for safety from the second death. No power can take out of His hands the souls that go to Him for pardon” (PP 516).


Fred Knopper

Adventist Media Center