So they appointed Kedesh in Galilee, in the mountains of Naphtali, Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and Kirjath Arba (which is Hebron) in the mountains of Judah. And on the other side of the Jordan, by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness on the plain, from the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwelt among them, that whoever killed a person accidentally might flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stood before the congregation.
These cities are rather evenly spaced throughout Israel. This map shows them about 50 miles apart (though Shechem appears to be a bit north of Ephraim).
Thus, the farthest almost anyone would have to flee would be about 25 miles. The one exception is in the wilderness of Zin in the far south. This is in the Negev desert. This is very inhospitable territory—few people would want to live there—and it’s still only about 50 miles from Hebron, max.
Still, that’s a pretty long donkey ride. The chase scene would be comical by modern movie standards. Remember, Rahab made the spies wait three days for the posse chasing them to give up, and Jericho is only a few miles from the Jordan river.
So fleeing to the nearest sanctuary city isn’t as easy as the Von Trapp family dashing off to a nearby convent.
Then again, catching up to a fleeing manslayer and denying him a fair hearing would be incredibly bad form.
In a way, three sanctuary cities on each side of the Jordan doesn’t seem like enough. Fleeing there can be a huge journey. Not only that, but many accidental deaths are of co-workers, friends or loved ones. The manslayer may be wracked with grief or even consumed with the task of trying to save the victim’s life. Must he dash off immediately so as to stay ahead of the posse chasing him?
No. This justice system, instituted by God, sets a standard. Accidental homicide is not a capital crime and everyone is supposed to get that. The designated avenger should understand that he’s not obligated to exact vigilante justice without a hearing in the sanctuary city. Note also that this isn’t just for all the children of Israel; it’s also for the stranger who dwelt among them.
So, these sanctuary cities serve multiple functions. They act as courts. For the manslayer who is innocent of murder, they’re also prisons; he can’t return home and resume life.
For the murderer, they deliver justice.
These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.