Just Getting Started? Read what you’ve missed and check out Bible reading resources
Bible Time Period: Conquest and Judges
You led Israel triumphantly into the Promised Land. They failed to teach their children, and instead did what was right in their own eyes: Help me to keep my eyes on you and teach others what is truly right.
The division of the land among the tribes continues in these chapters. Joseph and Judah are the two sons of Jacob who received real blessing from their father (recall Day 12 of this challenge, when you read Genesis 46-50). Remember that the tribe of Levi became the priests. They will not receive a tribal territory. To maintain the number 12, Joseph becomes two tribes: when you read “the house of Joseph,” it includes the tribes of his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. These are given the bulk of the northern territory. Notice in chapter 19 that Simeon receives its portion within Judah. Benjamin is a small area that lies horizontally between Judah in the south and Ephraim in the north.
If your Bible contains maps, there’s probably one called something like “Israel in Canaan” or “Twelve Tribes of Israel” that you can look at to see how the land was divided.
In the ancient world, murder often led to an endless series of revenge killings. How was Israel to safeguard against this? What does this tell you about God?
Join the discussion below!
In Exodus the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments and one of the commandments: Thou shalt not kill was punishable by death if deemed a homicide. God wants to protect the innocent and therefore had Joshua appoint cities of refuge throughout the Promised Land. These cities were given to the Levites for their residence and there were 6 cities – 3 on the east and 3 on the west of the Jordan River (Numb 35:6). If a man committed homicide, God wanted a fair judicial process with evidence of at least two witnesses and punishment should not be greater than the crime committed. How fitting for these cities of refuge to be among the Levites, holy men. The time spent in refuge allowed the person to atone for the killing, he was removed from his people and now able to purify himself to make himself clean again. This tells me that God is loving and merciful. He does not want the unjustly slaying of innocent men, nor unfair punishment of those found guilty of a crime.
I had not made the connection to the cities being Levite residences, but that makes so much sense. Allowing time for atonement and to be made clean again. God is indeed wise and just in all things!
God is just and as such makes a provision to protect the innocent from those who would take a life in retribution for a lost life designating certain cities as refuge. Not sure I totally understand why the person was to remain in the city until the death of the high priest in office when he sought refuge. Was there to be a limit on how long a family could enact retribution? Not sure we will see that happen humanity being what it is.
Gig- I wondered that as well about the high priest.
I imagine that the resetting with the high priest is kind of a statute of limitations? We can find refuge in our Church through the sacraments today, and even when we confess and gain absolution, we still must make restitution (break a window, ask forgiveness; receive forgiveness, but still pay for the window). Once done, move on.
Isn’t God amazing? Even if we sin, we have other chances to redeem ourselves! Perhaps this exercise of appointing cities of refuge was like a ‘time out’ period before a manslayer would stand before the congregation. Could this be a prototype of the Right of Reconciliation? God gave the Israelites a covenant and commandments to follow. It was then up to the people to oblige and not stray from the path of righteousness. God is a just and loving God and with these two words, just and loving, He is the dearest Father ever!
Think you are onto something. I am just glad that our Sacrament of Reconciliation doesn’t lead to us living in the Church for years (not that I have ever killed anyone).
This shows again that although powerful and strong, God is also fair, merciful, and full of love. Not only will he protect those that kill without hatred or intent, he will also be fair to them and provide them safe haven to purify themselves again. I think in terms of confession, our safe haven land with the holy men of our day, where we can account for our sins and ask for forgiveness. God is loving, just, and merciful. We are so very lucky to call him Father.
First, I don’t think revenge murders are confined to the ancient world, particularly where the Middle East is concerned! Would that there were cities of refuge today!! I do believe God is just; He is trying to infuse His people with mercy and justice, as well. Along with these cities, recall the seventh year release (Deut. 15) when debts are to be forgiven; and the 50th year Jubilees (Lev. 25) — an even more special and pronounced release of debts, release of slaves/indentured, and lands taken to be returned to the original owners. All this speaks to me of forgiveness and reconciliation — very hard for people of any age to achieve; but all things are possible through God. Christ fulfills these OT measures of mercy and is our true refuge!
Kerry, I totally agree with you that revenge is rampant in today’s world. The concept of “blood money” grew out of other codes of laws that other nations of the fertile cresent as well as being implied in the Cities of Refuge. Lawyers today make much money on wrongful death suites. Murders found not guilty in criminal courts can be tried and found guilty in civil courts and subject to a large pamyment to the victims family.
Just look at all the movies based on revenge…
Yes Marianne and they never turn out well.
Because it’s not up to us to play God
Amen to that
To me it said that God has all authority over Life and Death. The New Testament refines this concept and the Encyclicals elaborate even further. I am very Prolife and to me this talks about the wrongness of executions. It brought to mind an event when I lived in Tucson AZ. A young man committed a brutal murder, through plea bargaining he recieved a life without parol sentance. The family of the victim was very angry. The Life Sentance proved to be very short. In a few months, the young man developed a deadly form of leukemia. The family of the victim protested all treatment to extend his life. But he was treated agressively with Chemo. Never the less the young man died in agony and unfortunatly publically unrepentant. The family of the victim moaned saying now they would have no closure. This is probably not the correct answer to the question, but it is what the passage brought to mind.
This brings to mind the other side of the coin…the victims of those who sought refuge for murder…we say God is merciful, wise, and just…and that he is…he gives those who are victims, though they hate the act itself, time to come to terms within themselves not to hate the killer. Holding a deep-seated grudge indefinitely can wear a person down…we need to forgive those who harm us as well…love the person, hate the crime…this is what has been shown time and time again…Openly by Jesus from the cross…forward through the lives of various people and saints, but here we see that though not specifically mentioned, time is given to resolve issues surrounding a murder. God’s merciful love is here…let us give thanks for that…
There are always two sides, huh? If time doesn’t heal all wounds, it can at least allow for scar tissue so the wound is not so painful. God is merciful, you are right, in allowing us time for our hurts to heal, and if we are initially unable to forgive, give it over to God to forgive for us….”Forgive them Father; they know not what they do.”
Ever hear the song “Losing” by Tenth Avenue North… “Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them ‘cause I feel like the one losing”
Thank you Marianne
I looked up the Catechism passages on the death penalty.
2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67
2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68
I certainly believe that the Death Penalty is often abused today. So much so that in my will (now invalid so I need to rewrite it) I stated that if i were a victim of murder my family should speak against the death penalty.
When I studied Canon Law I discovered a lot of grey area — and I understand why. As Church, we should always look upon sinners with mercy; judging the sin, not the sinner. We must ask why the sinner chose the path of disordered conduct and take all circumstances into account. So, though the Church does not speak out definitively on the death penalty, it cannot speak definitively for it, either. First, we must consider the inherent value and dignity of life; second, humans are flawed and likely to make incorrect judgments, have agendas, or lack adequate information for true due process. The death penalty, in my mind, cannot be supported because there is always a chance that the judgment was rendered incorrectly and without mercy.
Amen to that Kerry
My thoughts were very much in line with everyone else. Having a facility whereby a person who accidentally or unintentionally took a life served many purposes and enables God’s healing power and mercy to work within everyone.
There are so many cycles of violence and grudges in this world caused by passing on the pain and hurt because people mistake hitting back as a cure. I think that it is quick and easy to hit or snap back, but it does not heal the hurt and is unsatisfactory in the longer term. Holding back the quick retort or the slap, can be extremely painful, but then there are 2 different paths, the first is to let it burn within until it errupts violently and again it does not heal the growing hurt, but fuels more anger. The 2nd path, is harder still, it is to hold it back, seek healing, receive treatments (Spiritual guidance, Eucharist, Sacraments of Reconciliation etc.) and fight through relapses until we are able to receive God’s healing.
It reminds me of when I worked with someone who made my life a misery, I tried the 2nd path but was too weak so God in His mercy moved the person away (they then retired). Our paths crossed 3 times since then. The 1st time I (with tons of help from God) held back an ocean of rage and anger, the 2nd time a river and the 3rd time a medium sized avalanche of snow. I am not looking forward to the next time but I am trying to think of it as lancing a boil – excruciatingly painful combined with a sense of release, leaving a tender spot that can heal if kept clean. I so wish that forgiveness was easy e.g. just saying I forgive you, makes it happen.
I have found the act of forgiving to be very empowering. In fact I believe that forgiving is the best revenge.
Fully agree with forgiving being empowering, but it can be so hard to move towards genuine forgiveness. Usually the people I have to forgive, are those who do not consider that they have been rude, hurtful etc and refuse to listen to any mention about the effects of their behaviour. Sigh. I know, it is so much easier to notice other people’s failings than look at our own.
Yet forgiving is essential to healing the wounds. When I was injured in an auto accident that was the result of road rage (was hit from behind while stopped at a stop-sign) I opted for pain management rather medication part of the pain management included that I should let go of all vengeful thought Today when I have pain I listen to soothing music and let go of all vengeful thoughts. It works!!!!!
Perhaps taking 20 to thirty minutes listening to Hymns might help you let go of these feelings. I find the recordings of John Michael Talbot especially uplifting and healing.
I like listening to John Michael Talbot as well. It sort of re balances the emotions in a good way.
God bless you, Liz. I have some very similar situations and so can relate to your pain and longing for peace. I am currently praying daily for the remnants of poison in my heart to be dispelled so I can truly discern my next step in ministry. I have also experienced the closure of completely letting go and forgiving — it is worth the struggle, grief and time it takes to achieve. Hang in there.
Thank you. One of my prayers is that God will help me never give up trying and if I fall short, that when I lift up my muddy face, I will always be facing Him with my arms outstretched towards Him. I would rather fall short ten miles away reaching out to Him, than falling at His feet facing away from Him.
Forgiveness is not easy, Liz. But hanging on to the hurt and pain only destroys you, not the person who hurt you. Believe me, I struggled with this for years. In my heart, I could forgive, but I just couldn’t forget. And I felt like a hypocrite every time I prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Especially during Mass. Especially when I would see that person on the opposite end of the church.
If you wait for the person to ask for forgiveness, you’ll likely be waiting a long time.
I found that, when you let go of the unforgiveness, you will feel a sense of peace. If you run into that person again, it may be awkward. But don’t let him or her steal your joy. Remember, Jesus is right there with you.
I also think that we are unable to move forward in our walk with Christ until we learn to forgive, as He forgives.
My suggestion? Pray that God will give you the strength to forgive. And also, pray for that person. It doesn’t have to be anything specific. I simply say “Lord, I pray for so-and-so”. I leave it up to God to handle as He sees fit.
Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. The act of unforgiving is a form of vengeance, because our actions become a sort of judgmental reaction.
For me, many decades have passed. I have seen how God has worked in this person’s life.
BTW, did you read Sarah’s post on Forgiveness?
Praying for you,
Marianne, thank you for the link to the article. I confused forgiveness with reconciliation and letting go. It is hard which is why I am praying for help with another situation where one friend consistently is rude and insulting whenever invited for a meal. 2 of us have tried to be gentle and loving but the message doesn’t sink in. The situation seems impossible (knowing our characters), but reading about what God has done, I think I will now pray with greater confidence, after all He stopped the sun and moon, so He can (if asked) sort this little problem out without anyone getting hurt.
Amen to that! You can also be a good influence on that person by your own behavior in situations.
It may not work with this person, but many people who behave badly are unhappy in their own lives. These are the people we can reach when we resonate our own Joy in the Lord. These are the people who may say “I want what she has” and they may pay attention, emulate, and listen to your witness story of the miraculous power of God’s healing in your life.
The book: As We Forgive Those, By Charles Finck, is an amazing book.
I highly recommend this book. I studied through this book during Lent of 2014.
Here is a link to a map of Israel in Canaan. It is an excellent visual. http://www.biblestudy.org/maps/division-of-promised-land-to-twelve-tribes-israel-large-map.html
Thanks for finding the map for us. I needed a visual to better understand the division of property.
I like a picture too, and I wasn’t going to map it myself! : )
Thanks so much, Lori. This map really helped me put the tribes and their territories in perspective.
Hooray! : ) it helped me too.
Really appreciate this site. Puts it all into perspective for me. Glad I was able to do Control P and got a copy of that page.
Savvy computer girl! : )
Thank you so much! This is good.
I liked it too. anyway to see this time in a different dimension is helpful. Frankly, I even think the veggie tales have helped me to understand it a bit better! Josh and the Big Wall is excellent, and don’t get me started on their version of Esther. 🙂
What touches me in the reading today is how generous God was to his people as they finally inherit Canaan. I look at the map and read the list of cities comprising each’s territory. Except for the cities God required them to burn during the wars to take the land, the Israelites inherited many cities along with the animals, buildings, crops, valuables and all the other spoils. These are now a very wealthy people!
I have learned through this that I must be patient with God in my prayers to Him. In His own time He will answer me. He will give me my own “promised land” when the time is right. I must fully trust in His mercy and know that He will do what is best for me and for whom I pray. I need to stop my grumblings against God. Like questioning why He hasn’t answered me in the way and time I want him to.
Session Four of Why Catholic speaks about Fortitude which strengthens us in difficult times. It helps us to overcome fear and accept the trials and sufferings that come out way as we strive to do what is right (CCC, 1809). That is one of the human virtues I need to develop. I’m not a patient person, but the Old Testament teaches me that I must persevere as I wait for God to show his mercy. That is faith and hope.
Reading this today, made me wonder if [some of] those people who fled to seek asylum in one of those 6 cities, might choose the city with the Oldest High Priest.
I wondered quite the opposite. I wondered if the refugee was allowed to stay in the city after the High Priest’s death. Even though they couldn’t be killed, I doubt that their hometown was a very welcoming environment.
My thoughts that they would hightail it to nearest city though. I also noted from the discription of the cities, they appeared to be pretty isolated.
Hi Barbara, Yes, for most of the cases that would likely be the case, especially when the grieving family had a particularly vengeful reputation/history. I see I forgot two words in my haste in leaving this morning (some of). I could visualize a conversation between a man and his wife, with several children, where she was urging him to go to xyz city, because the high Priest there was “very old”, so that the husband could “legally” return sooner… Possibly similar conversation between someone and their elderly parent or grandparent…
Another thought… I wonder if it were ever allowed for the refugees to flee taking some or all of their family with them? Or more likely, if the family could move to the new city after the person was accepted into the city?
I really think that the refugee would take his wife and children with him, because when one had a vendetta against a man it included his family. Without a male to protect them they would likely be sold into slavery. as for the elderly parents I assume a sibling would take care of them that task usually fell to the oldest anyway
I agree with Barbara. I think they fled for protection and didn’t want to be out in the public for as long as possible
Wasn’t there only one high priest in the whole nation?
I just looked at Joshua 20:6 again, and now I am not 100% sure… When I read it the first time, I assumed that each city had its own High Priest… Same with Numbers 35:25. It does not actually spell it out…
Simply put God is forgiving humans not so much. Revenge is not justice and God alone is the source of justice. God’s justice is tempered with mercy. Vengence can lead to long debilitating conflicts so God in his mercy established cities of mercy.
One could also hope they are near to the year of Jubilee when all debt is forgiven.
Don’t know if it’s still true, a person can seek asylum in a church and can’t be arrested by the police? I thought of this while reading and learning how God found a way for the people to learn how to show mercy amongst themselves. It’s truly a heart-warming feeling when I am forgiven for mistakenly hurting someone’s feelings through my own ignorance or lack of how they may take something I’ve said. The act of forgiveness is so important in our society today. There is so much anger and hate usually because of misunderstandings or jumping to conclusions. Racism, bigotry, anger, hate, revenge, even road rage can be so destructive to a person’s soul, and I think God wanted the people to learn and understand, “Only God can be the Judge.”
As far as the Church teaches that still stands. As for civil authorities not so much. It all depends on how much respect a nation has for religion and the freedom to worship. Here it would really be difficult to seek refuge in the church as most churches I know are locked except during services. and only authorized persons have access.
Cities of refuge were to be safe havens for someone who took the life of another person by accident. Those who accidentally killed someone could flee to these cities and be protected from relatives of the deceased who would want blood revenge (Num 35). Atonement was made by the Priest for the whole community.
Here is Gods patience and thoughtfulness at work for us. Until any Israelite or alien residing among them killed a person unintentionally could appear before the community, they could escape death at the hand of the avenger of blood. This gave everyone time to calm down, think through and not start a larger conflict. Also God is turning over the law and the handling of justice to the people. We do this today, except the cities are called ‘Jails’.
I believe God wanted the Israelites who lost someone to an unintentional death to have a cooling off period where no one could touch or harm the offender. Similar to our “count to 10” rule, or to do nothing until we’ve “slept” on it. There’s a lot to be said for letting tempers and emotions settle, to pray for God’s guidance, and to trust in God’s plan, even when we can’t see the plan, or don’t like what we are seeing.
Only Christian really forgive, through the grace of God. Cultures before that got revenge. They felt it was the right thing to do. The separation or place of refugee for one that had killed was a place for healing. It gave them time to cool their heels and look at the situation more objectively.
Just as you separate fighting children instead of solving their conflict-it helps for reason to set in when they are separated. Forgiveness is not possible without God’s grace. We can not do it on our own strength.
St. Paul Miki and Companions pray for us! Over 37,000 people were killed in Nagasaki, Japan, due to the dropping of the atomic bomb in WWII. Three and a half centuries, there were 26 martyrs of Japan crucified on a hill, the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki, priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Third Order. There were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children who loved the Crucified Jesus Christ. Brother Paul Miki was a Jesuit, a native of Japan. Paul Miki preached to the people from the cross gathered around the martyrs.
Brother Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught
the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank
God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth
before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.” The year was 1597. Missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s. They did not seem at first to find any trace of Christianity. They preceded to establish themselves and found thousands of Christians who lived around Nagasaki who had in secret preserved the Catholic Faith. The 26 martyrs were beatified in 1627 and canonized in 1862. Today, the numbers of Catholics in Japan is not large but they have total religious freedom. Christianity has spread slow in the Far East and it is difficult. St. Paul Miki and Companions, pray for us!
Mortal sin kills the soul and dying with mortal sin on one’s soul without repentance will cause one to perish just as the disobedient in the times of the Israelites in these stories of the Old Testament.
Keeping the guilt one of accidental and unintended homicide stayed within that city until death would be a challenge to the killer and to the people within that community. The first human instinct is to get back to those whom hurt us. Through the love of a God we must pray for strength, faith of understanding and forgiveness for those whom hurt us. For the killer he is being held hostage for the rest of his life with people whom he does not want to be with,but with time may learn from them.
God not only helps those whom have been hurt, but also those whom are the wrongdoers too. God is a forgiving and loving God. Amazing!