Joshua 20: Cities of Refuge

Read: Joshua 20

The Lord commanded Joshua to designate cities among Israel as “Cities of Refuge”. Cities of Refuge were designated as a place where those accused of a crime could seek asylum, at least for a while, while tempers cooled and guilt could be ascertained objectively (Numbers 35:11-34). In the Ancient Near East, most societies enabled near relatives of a victim of a crime to seek revenge on those who allegedly committed the crime. Joshua designates these cities as places were those who committed unpremeditated man slaughter could flee. These cities had wide highways to make an unhindered way. Deuteronomy 19:1-13 says that Cities of Refuge were to be expanded as the Israelites increased their territory to insure that there would be accessible places for all. Coupled with this command to expansion was a command to be careful and observe the commandments that God had given them.

Deuteronomy 19:10 explains that the cities were designed so that there would be no shedding of innocent blood. God’s concern was justice to prevail rather than some one’s vengeance to be satisfied. The difference between revenge and justice is often skewed, especially in the minds of those wanting revenge. The one wanting revenge is usually motivated by a perception that he or she has been wrong, and wants reparations from it. Justice on the other hand is not based on perceptions of wrong, rather than what has actually been committed, regardless of one’s perception of how he has been treated. To this end, the Old Testament forbids revenge as a course of action (Leviticus 19:18, Proverbs 24:29) and encourages one to seek justice (Deuteronomy 1:17, Deuteronomy 17:8-11, Deuteronomy 19:15-19). Ultimately, the avenger for the people of is God. (Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1-3). He is the one who can and will deliver impartial justice.

The New Testament quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 in two places: Hebrews 10:30 and Romans 12:29. The Hebrews passages is in the context of rejecting the Law and the grace offered by Jesus after having ascertaining the knowledge of such things– such people will be judge my God. Romans 12:29 talks about not seeking revenge. Paul quotes the passage for the purpose to remind his readers that God is the one who avenges wrong. Rather than seek revenge, one should seek to overcome evil with good. This does not mean that one should dismiss justice, rather seek justice and do what is right and accept the outcome of judgment regardless of what one’s perceptions. In all cases, forgiveness should be sought too!

Lord, help me to seek justice, not revenge!