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Sanctuary Cities

Daily Reading: Numbers 35

Scripture Focus: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, "When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there." (Numbers 35:10-11)

Devotional Thought: Numbers 35 details the requirements and the intent of the 48 cities given to the Levites as their inheritance, six of which were designated as cities of refuge. Although that term may sound similar to today’s so-called “sanctuary cities” in the U.S., the intentions behind the two terms could not be more different.

Cities of refuge were designed to be a refuge for the Israelites, along with the strangers and sojourners among them, who had unintentionally killed a person. They would flee to one of these six cities to prevent immediate death from the avenger. If a person intentionally murdered another person, the city of refuge would not protect the murderer, but he would be put to death immediately. Also important to note, the manslayer was judged by the congregation and if he was determined to be guilty of murder, he would be turned over to the avenger and be rightly killed for his crime. This could not be more different than today’s warped version of what the Lord intended as a place of safety prior to judgment.

In his great mercy, the Lord established the cities of refuge to protect the manslayer from the punishment reserved for the murderer. He is making a distinction in a cultural justice system that demanded "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” What the Lord does not do is pardon the guilty or lesson the requirements for justice in these cities. Simply from reading this seemingly specific chapter of Numbers, outlining a small section of the Law for God’s chosen people, we can see clearly both the Lord’s great mercy and compassion, and also his unwavering justice. Let us view the world around us with the same measure of both.


Prayer: Lord, we know that without your Spirit it is impossible to rightly discern true justice. It is also impossible to feel compassion and mercy towards those who do not deserve either. Through your Spirit, help us to see things as you see them, and respond as you would lead.

Psalm of the Day: 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalms 130:1-4)

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