These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be killed before being tried by the community.
Numbers 35:12 NLT
Good guy is being chased by bad guys but good guy is running out of energy and time. Good guy sets eyes on a nearby church, uses his last bit of energy to run to it, fling open the door, fall in, and take refuge in the “sanctuary” it offers.
Whenever I see that scene play out, I find myself a little bit envious. Some days, I wish I had a physical place of sanctuary and refuge to run to. Some days I would do just about anything for a place in which I could be untouchable – a place where I am considered rather than condemned. Here’s how that scene would play out:
Heroine (me) with two small children at nap time in long check-out line at the pharmacy. Heroine is almost out of energy and just needs to complete this last task. All of a sudden [for no reason] the two small children turn into DESTRUCTORS WHO SCREAM AT THE VOLUME OF AN AMBULENCE SIREN!! Slow motion shot: Elderly woman in line ahead of heroine turns head to glare angrily. Suddenly, Heroine notices out of the corner of her eye – THE PHOTO DEPARTMENT CHECKOUT COUNTER!! There is no line and the clerk working there is a friendly babysitter who the kids love! Heroine throws both (still screaming) kids under one arm and (with superhuman strength) runs with basket full of goods towards the photo department. She reaches the counter, looks at the smiling face of the young clerk who is overjoyed to see her AND her children, and knows she is safe – for now…
Epic, right? In all seriousness, there are so many times when I feel judged unfairly and think to myself how nice it would be to be “innocent until proven guilty” more often. Unfortunately, there are also times when I look back on a situation and realize I also judged individuals too quickly without knowing the full story. In those moments I long for some way to go back and have a re-do; be more understanding, slower to draw conclusions, quicker to listen, find some way to offer refuge.
In chapter 35 of Numbers, the Israelites are just about to take ownership of The Promised Land. The Lord tells Moses how to instruct the people on dividing up the land. In addition to their land to reside in, the Levites were to be in charge of six “cities of refuge.” A city of refuge is described here:
“Say this to the people of Israel: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, designate cities of refuge for people to flee to if they have killed someone accidentally. These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be killed before being tried by the community.'” (Numbers 25:10-12 NLT)
What an awesome display of God’s law and mercy working together. He guides his people to exercise patience and a clear head when executing judgment by inserting cities of refuge – places for physical and metaphorical pause. The really cool part is that today God is my city of refuge. He sent his son so that we may have an eternity of refuge. We are free; free from being judged AND free from the want to judge each other.
With that in mind, I challenge myself to create space in my heart for Cities of Refuge – space to refrain from judgment. When something happens in my life that would normally make my brain start connecting dots prematurely, I will pause and, in prayer, put that moment in a City of Refuge. I will let it be in that City until God has given me the proper wisdom to discern how to interpret that situation. Then, I can be sure I am following the words of James 1:19+20:
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (NIV)