Tag Archives: Joshua 20

Justice Then and Now

Justice Then and Now (CaD Jos 20) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
Joshua 20:1-3 (NIV)

Some of our most epic stories have ridiculously high body counts. I’ve had the joy of seeing many of Shakespeare’s plays produced on stage. His tragedies, in particular (e.g. Hamlet, Macbeth) end with seemingly everyone in the play dead. The same with the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. The same is true in more modern epics like the Godfather trilogy in which warring families endlessly kill one another. Game of Thrones also found creative and nasty ways to rack up the body counts. Even the climactic final chapters of Harry Potter contained the death of some of my most beloved characters.

Throughout history, our epic stories are reflections of our humanity, complete with its deepest flaws and tragic ends. Ever since Abel’s blood cried out, murder, death, and vengeance have been a part of human tragedies.

In today’s chapter, God reminds Joshua of a rudimentary system of justice outlined in the law of Moses. Knowing that tragic deaths could often result in violent, systemic, and generational blood feuds between families, clans, and tribes, Cities of Refuge were designated. If a tragic death occurred unintentionally yet a person was accused of murder, the accused could flee to one of these cities of refuge. The town protected the accused from acts of vengeance until a trial could be held by the tribal assembly and a verdict rendered. It was rudimentary, but it provided a time-out so that hot tempers could cool off and vengeance could be stalled in order for justice to be carried out.

As a student of history, I have often read about the historical implications that the Law of Moses had on humanity. It’s the recognized seminal code of law on which our own system of justice is built. No human system of justice is perfect, just as no human system of government is perfect. But in the story of the Hebrews, I see God prescribing a huge step forward toward a more just society.

So what does this have to do with me here in my 21st-century life journey? First of all, I’m grateful to have very little need for a justice system thus far on my life journey. I am blessed to have lived what amounts to a relatively peaceful life. I take that for granted sometimes, and so I whisper a prayer of gratitude in the quiet this morning.

I also recognize as I meditate on the chapter that justice is more pervasive in the human experience than the weighty matters of manslaughter and capital murder. Justice is a part of every human relationship and interaction. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t ignore that He calls me to be just, generous, loving, and merciful in every relationship. Jesus taught that In God’s kingdom:

  • Cursing another person is as serious as murder.
  • Lust is as serious as adultery.
  • I shouldn’t worship God if I’ve got an interpersonal human conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • I am to forgive, as I have been forgiven, and then keep forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, as and when necessary.
  • When cursed by others, I am to return blessings.
  • When asked for a favor, I am to go above and beyond what was asked.
  • As far as I am able, I am to live at peace with every person in my circles of community and influence.

And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just a top-of-mind list that came to me in the quiet.

And so I enter another day in the journey, endeavoring to be a person of love, mercy, generosity, and justice in a world that has always desperately needed it at every level.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

City of Refuge

“Say to the Israelites, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses….'”
Joshua 20:2 (NRSV)

“City of refuge” was an ancient legal concept in which those accused of manslaughter could flee and find refuge from the family of the deceased who might seek revenge for the death. The “city of refuge” had a legal obligation to hear out the person fleeing and, if they decided that the person’s story was honest and worthy, to protect that person until an official hearing could be established.

Over the centuries, the term “city of refuge” expanded in meaning. Many who fled persecution of various kinds would call their new home a “city of refuge.”

Wendy and I live in a small Iowa town that was settled by a few hundred Dutch immigrants in 1847. They were led by their pastor, H.P. Scholte, who was an amazing mix of theologian, businessman, lawyer, artist, and visionary. He and his followers fled Holland because the state church of the Netherlands had imprisoned Scholte for not towing their doctrinal line. Scholte and a group of his faithful followers pooled their resources, purchased land from the United States in the new state of Iowa, and created a town from Scholte’s vision. He had the town completely mapped out and zoned before the group even arrived. Scholte gave his new town the name Pella, after a “city of refuge” in the country of Jordan where early followers of Jesus fled Jewish and Roman persecution. Pella, Scholte said, would be a “city of refuge” for the fleeing Hollanders.

To this day, our little town of Pella continues to hang on to the “city of refuge” moniker that was given to us by our town’s founder. Long ago the residents of Pella forgave native Holland for its persecution.  We now embrace our Dutch heritage to a fault. Scholte’s resentment towards the Netherlands also tempered later in life. He even sought to return to his native land as an ambassador of the U.S. (it never came to be). Still, residents of Pella find refuge of a sort in our little town. It is common for children raised in Pella to return and raise their families here. Life in Pella is relatively quiet. The pace is slow compared to most places, and the residents still cling to values that other places seem to have abandoned. And, we have great food and a Tulip Time Festival every May (Join us May 5-7!).

Today I’m thinking about the concept of refuge. Today’s chapter speaks of refuge from revenge in ancient legal terms. Still, the broader concept has equal merit. We all need a place, or places, where we can find refuge. We all need shelter from life’s storms.