A Place of Refuge (Joshua 20:1-3)

“You killed my father! Aaaaaahhhh!!!!!” the tween boy yelled as he swung his Dollar Tree plastic sword at my daughter Chloe’s head.

Last night I sat and took choreography notes from a fight scene on the set of Disney’s Mulan Jr. musical. My daughter has the role of lead antagonist (a.k.a. the bad guy) Shan-Yu, which is both amazing and hilarious at the same time, because she’s one of the smaller (and sweeter!) actors in the cast, playing the part of the big, brooding, blood-thirsty villain.

In this particular scene, Shang (Captain of China’s Imperial Army) is in a fight scene with Shan-Yu (Leader of the Huns), and is attacking him with vindictive rage because Shan-Yu had killed his father earlier in the storyline. The boy playing Shang is literally about 9-10 inches taller than Chloe, which makes the fight scene pretty entertaining to say the least.

In Joshua 20, we find reference to the “Cities of Refuge” (also found in Numbers 35). In ancient Hebrew culture, when someone killed your family member, the customs of justice at the time called for swift revenge with no opportunity for fair judgment. With the nation of Israel settling down in the Promised Land for the first time, God began to establish a new government, including a way to give fair trial to those who may have unintentionally killed someone else.

“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)

These six “Cities of Refuge” were under Levite rule, and the Levites were in charge of holding a trial to determine whether the killing was accidental (unintentional and without malice or premeditation) or not. If the accused person was found innocent, he would be allowed to live safely in the city until the death of the high priest, and at that point would be allowed to go free and start a new life. If he was found guilty, he’d be delivered to the victim’s family so that they could kill him and avenge the blood of their murdered relative.

This system of justice was entirely new and was a reflection of the pairing of God’s law and His mercy. He was creating a structure that would allow for those who made mistakes to find mercy and an opportunity to be restored, while at the same time ensuring that the proper penalty for sin was paid.

He did the same through Jesus for us. Jesus was the only sufficient sacrifice to eternally pay the price of our sin. That God’s wrath and justice isn’t carried out on us daily (as it often was in the Old Testament before Jesus walked the earth), is because of His mercy. Through Jesus He made a way for us to be forgiven and restored, while simultaneously paying the proper penalty for sin with the blood of Christ.

My daughter’s character Shan-Yu certainly would have been ruled as guilty for his sin of murdering Shang’s father. Likewise, each of us should also be found guilty for the sins we regularly commit against each other and a holy God.

But thank God that in His love and mercy, those of us who have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice don’t have to fear retaliation or retribution! Jesus gave Himself to pay the price for you and I, that although we ARE guilty, God as Judge would declare us as innocent. Only through Jesus Christ is this exchange possible.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23).

Do you have the assurance of eternal life? If not, pray that God would reveal Himself to you today. As justice is served, may He be your place of refuge!

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