Embassies throughout the world provide a safe haven for their nation’s citizens. In times of trouble, the embassy is one place where citizens can seek help. In our text today, the Lord requested Joshua to build cities of refuge (v. 1). These cities would provide safe places for people who accidentally or unintentionally killed someone (v. 2). The Lord laid out rules and regulations to provide fair and just treatment (vv. 4–6). This command was not new to the Israelites, it was first given to Moses (Ex. 21:13). Joshua now designated six specific cities throughout the nation.
This legislation demonstrates God’s mercy and the sanctity of human life. It’s true the Pentateuch commands such actions as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21; Leviticus 24), but what Yahweh is addressing here falls under different circumstances. God recognizes that we live in a fallen world and tragedies happen. Therefore, He willingly pours out His mercy on people who unintentionally kill, even when the world might prefer a different outcome. God’s commands to let them live under certain conditions and mandates affirm the sanctity and dignity of every human life. The person who caused the accidental death still had value and worth in God’s eyes but was not free to return home until he was found innocent and waited for some time (v. 6).
These rules may seem odd to us today in our somewhat “over-legalized” world, but they were a clear sign of God’s character and justice. God was initiating order, grace, and mercy into the world. Much of which is seen today, but there is still more to be done.
>> As recipients of God’s grand mercy, we ought to be a place of refuge for those who carry the heavy burden of tragedy. How can your home or life be a sanctuary for those who need mercy from God and the world? Be on the lookout for those who need a safe place.