Monday after the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity Sunday
Scripture: Deuteronomy 19:1-20 (NKJV)
1 “When the LORD your God has cut off the nations whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses, 2 you shall separate three cities for yourself in the midst of your land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess. 3 You shall prepare roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, that any manslayer may flee there.
4 “And this is the case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live: Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past—5 as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he shall flee to one of these cities and live; 6 lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated the victim in time past. 7 Therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall separate three cities for yourself.’ 8 Now if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as He swore to your fathers, and gives you the land which He promised to give to your fathers, 9 and if you keep all these commandments and do them, which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and to walk always in His ways, then you shall add three more cities for yourself besides these three, 10 lest innocent blood be shed in the midst of your land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and thus guilt of bloodshed be upon you.
11 “But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies, and he flees to one of these cities, 12 then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there, and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. 13 Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you.
14 “You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.
15 “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. 16 If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, 17 then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. 18 And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, 19 then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. 20 And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.”
The “avenger of blood” in this passage is the nearest relative of the murdered person. It was his job to redeem the blood of his kinsman with the blood of his murderer. Justice was the re-balancing of the scales. One man’s blood to pay for another man’s blood. This is a tribal system of justice. It is a very natural type of system. All men have a tendency to favor family and close kin. This is the very basis of tribal society and it is built right into our genetics. God’s system of justice is based off of this foundation as well. Sin must be atoned for with blood. So, tribal systems of justice are not wrong, are not totally primitive, and they persist even in our day.
In fact, Francis Fukuyama, argues that “the tribal system is strong…that even in most modern states it never fully disappears.” In modern societies, institutions of government like court systems, police forces and legislative bodies put several layers of buffer between offenders and victims. They are meant to keep blood vengeance from spinning out of control. God here also institutes cities of refuge to meet some of the same functions. They were a means of stopping blood feuds for accidental deaths (manslaughter). God does not negate the tribal system of justice. If a man is truly guilty of murder, the avenger of blood will still exact his price from the murderer, but God sets limits and brings a layer of control to this system. And with this system God teaches all men their need for atonement and redemption.