Summary: Our text for this morning tells of a way that God addressed the issues of cruelty and justice in ancient Israel. He moved His people away from brutality that was very much a part of the world by putting into place a system allowing for justice.
Text: Joshua 20 Brutality! It amazes me that in this 21st century as advanced as humanity is with regard to technology, medicine, and communication - how terribly cruel we can be. Last week, my wife and I rented a DVD that I would highly recommend to each of you by the title of Hotel Rwanda. It is a true story of one man’s attempt to save lives during the massacres that swept that African nation in 1994. People who had lived next door to each other for years, working and playing together, sharing life turned on each other viciously and in a matter of days, a million people died - most hacked to death with machetes!
The whole thing with international terrorism reveals humanity’s capacity for cruelty, too.
∙ Palestinian leaders turn their teenagers into walking bombs that blow up Israeli buses,
who can understand that?
∙ The ongoing violence in Iraq that is killing far more Iraqi citizens than American soldiers is a puzzle, too. How do you win a war by killing your own people?
∙ What did those men who hijacked airliners and killed thousands on 9/11 think their outrageous acts would really accomplish? People who had nothing to do with geo-politics were murdered by cruel fanatics.
Lest we think that we Americans are above brutality, let me observe some of our cruel and/or violent acts. Perhaps they are not so dramatic, but these, too are evidence of human depravity.
∙ Companies layoff thousands to increase profits for share-holders by a few cents.
∙ Executives take home $millions in bonuses while pension funds for those retired are declared bankrupt.
∙ Members of street gangs gun down rivals in drive-by shootings that kill little children standing nearby.
∙ Children are victimized by sadistic predators on the Internet.
∙ Spouses drag each other through bitter divorce proceeding with little thought for the damage they are doing to their children or each other!
∙ Neighbors report each other to authorities for minor offenses.
∙ People sue others in frivolous lawsuits because they know it is often cheaper for the one sued to offer a quick settlement than it is to contest the action in court!
In all this, do you ever long for a place to run and hide? Sometimes I just have to stop watching the news for a few days. I cannot bear to hear of one more atrocity, one more fight, one more selfish act. Then, too, I pray that God keeps me from injustice, from using power or position to cause others pain.
Basic justice and mercy are issues of GREAT importance to God. If you study the OT for moral issues you will discover that there are many references to JUSTICE. Micah cried out to the people of God saying,
"He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8, NKJV)
Our text for this morning tells of a way that God addressed the issues of cruelty and justice in ancient Israel. He moved His people away from brutality that was very much a part of the world by putting into place a system allowing for justice. As the people of God were taking possession of the Promised Land, Joshua directed them to set aside 6 cities that were places with unique status in a cruel world. They were called ‘cities of refuge.’
Follow along if you wish, as I read the 9 verses of the 20th chapter of Joshua. READ
To understand this passage we need to give it some social context. Israel moving into the land and settling, but there was no real system of judges or courts. The ancient law called LEX TALIONIS, the law of retribution, was in effect. It was a cruel system that did not make much allowance for accidents or unintentional results. The standard was ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life!’ If a person was involved in an accident that killed another, the dead person’s family members - called ‘avengers of blood’ - were allowed to come after the one who caused the death.
In this unique instruction for Israel we read today, God reveals His concern for justice. These six cities, located strategically in the territories where the Israelites were settling so that any one of them could be reached from any spot with one day’s journey, were a step towards justice and fairness. A person who was under a threat of retribution could quickly make his way to one of these cities. There he would present his case to the Elders of the city and, if they accepted his account, he was admitted to the city for protection until a full trial could be arranged where all the evidence was considered by the city elders.