“Sanctuary Cities”

These cities have been in the news a lot recently in the contest between President Trump and those who oppose him.  These two sides have conflicting viewpoints:  one which seems to care nothing about the actual citizens of this once fair country, but values and protects those who flout her laws and sneak in, and the side which seeks the welfare of those citizens against the wishes of those who are here illegally.  Now, I do understand at least some of the reasoning of those who sneak in, considering the mess that some of the other countries in this part of the world are in, but there are ways to enter this country legally.  One of the reasons people sneak in is that we don’t have to build walls to keep people in, as some countries have done.

The purpose of this post, however, isn’t to comment on a bloated, bureaucratic and badly bent justice and/or immigration system, but to think about the concept of “justice” as it’s found in the Scripture, especially as it deals with “sanctuary cities”.

Yes, there really are “sanctuary cities” in the OT.

1. Their presence.

Where did the idea of “sanctuary cities” come from?

As Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land for the first time, God gave instructions about these cities to Moses:  And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho,… Numbers 35:1, NKJV.  See also Deuteronomy 19:1.

2. Their purpose.

First, we read in Numbers 35:15, These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there, emphasis added.

These cities were given as a place of protection for those who unintentionally killed someone, as in the example given of men who were cutting down trees and an ax head slipped off its handle and killed one of the men.  Even though the slaying was accidental and unpremeditated, there were still consequences.  For more on this, see our post, “Bloodguilt,” from May 27, 2016.

In opposition to the “sanctuary cities” of our time, which seem meant to protect the guilty, the cities of refuge in the OT were designed to protect the innocent!  There were no sprawling, expensive penitentiaries or jails in Israel; there was no provision for such a thing in the Mosaic Covenant.  Instead of being protected and provided for, criminals were dealt with summarily, more often than not by a member of victim’s family.  The sanctuary cities were provided for those who did not deserve to die.

Second, for those who were allowed to live in a city of refuge, there were certain restrictions.  They couldn’t leave until the death of the high priest; his death was considered to have satisfied any requirement for justice.  His death was imputed to them, as if they had died.  If one of these citizens did leave before the time, and was slain in revenge, the one doing the killing did not suffer any consequence.  The guilty were to be dealt with; the innocent were to be protected.

The reason for this?  In Numbers 35:31, 32, God commanded Moses, “…you shall take no ransom for the life of a murdered who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.  And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest.  So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it,” emphasis added.

According to this text, the blood of murder victims pollutes the land.

Now I freely admit that this OT provision was given to Israel, not to the U.S.  At the same time, though we don’t live under the Old Testament law, there was a time in our history when such laws and provisions were considered.  As that attention has waned, and we’ve been “freed” from such “puritanical” ideas, we have seen the resultant increase in crime and violence in our country.  There is more to it than that, of course, but I wonder how polluted our country is in the sight of God, with our undue emphasis on “criminal rights” and the huge number of law-breakers who have been set free, many to repeat their crimes.  In contrast to the mess we’ve developed protecting the “rights” of the criminal, the OT Law was concerned with  the rights of the victim.

3. Placement in the community.

Ultimately, there would be six such cities, three on each side of the Jordan, and equally placed throughout the land.  They were to be built so as to be seen from a long way away.  In Deuteronomy 19:3, there were even to be roads built to these cities.  I believe that I’ve read that these roads were to be kept in good repair and well-marked.

4. Permission to enter.

Though the Law was concerned with protecting the innocent, entrance into the city was not “automatic”.  There were certain requirements.

Numbers 35:12 says, They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment.

Then, after some intervening instruction, v. 24 continues,

…then the congregation shall judge between manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments.  So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and there he shall remain until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. 

Note that it was “the congregation” which determined admittance to the city or denial.  As we said, there was no expensive and bloated “judiciary” in Israel.

But what about those who were, indeed, guilty?

5. Prohibition.

…You shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death, Numbers 35:31.

There were no lengthy “appeals,” no lawyers to gum up the works, no parole or probation, no “technicalities”.  He was put to death.  Immediately.  Not after 20 or 30 or more years, where maybe he dies a natural death, after all.  It didn’t even matter if the guilty person “showed remorse,” as is so often looked for in our society today.  In our culture, for a criminal not to show remorse seems to be seen as almost worse than the crime(s) he committed.

Having said all that, and lest there be a thought that Israel wasn’t really to care about guilt or innocence, life or death, and though Israel didn’t have the legal apparatus that has developed in our country, there was still to be a thorough investigation:

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.  If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days.  And the judges make diligent inquiry, and, indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, 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.  And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.  Your eye shall not pity:  life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Deuteronomy 19:15-21, emphasis added.

“Diligent inquiry” was to be made, and severe penalties were to be carried out for false witnessing and lying.  The ninth commandment was to be enforced.  (And a person can tell the truth and still be a “false witness”.  That’s why God didn’t say, “Thou shalt not lie.”)  Evil was to be put away, not coddled, not rehabilitated.  The importance of this is seen in the fact that this idea of evil being “put away,” that is, actually gotten rid of and not just hidden away, occurs eleven (11) times in the Old Testament.  There was to be no such thing as “rehabilitation.”  Life was to be lived lawfully the first time, not the next time.

6. Pertinence.

What does all this have do with us centuries later?

We don’t live under the Mosaic Law.  As Gentiles, we never have.  “The church” never has been under the Mosaic Law, in spite of those who have tried to put us under it.  I do thank God for the Reformers – Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and all the others.  Considering the times in which they lived, I’m surprised that they were able to recover as much of the truth of Scripture as they did.  At the same time, I wish they would have returned to the original church fathers in the New Testament, and not just stopped with Origen and other “church fathers” a couple of centuries later.

Having said that, we do live under the Moral Law.  What’s the difference?  The Mosaic Law is the Moral Law given to a specific set of circumstances and people, namely to the nation of Israel.  It was to be their constitution and bylaws, as it were, as they settled into the land God promised their fathers.  This does not mean that we may live as we wish without fear of consequences, both now and in eternity.  We still cannot murder or commit adultery.  Paul taught that God put the Moral Law, the concept of “right and wrong,” in the hearts and minds of every single person who ever lived, Romans 2:14-16.  This concept may not necessarily agree with the Scriptural teachings on such, but it is still there.  None of us ever lives up even to that imperfect understanding of right and wrong, let alone to the perfect revelation of it in the Word of God.  Because of that failure, each of us is guilty in the sight of God.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  Each of us, therefore, is already under the sentence of death, Romans 6:23.

Is there, then, no hope for us?  We’re all guilty.  We all deserve to die, both now and eternally in a state of separation from God, in hell, which is the “second death,” Revelation 20:11-15, especially v. 14.

There are no longer any “cities of refuge.”  Even though some of the cities may still exist in Israel, their function in that regard has ceased.

There is, however, a place of refuge.

Hebrews 6:17, 18 refers to such a place and says that …God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

There is no longer a city of refuge; there is, however, still a place of refuge.

This place is found in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  His life prepared the righteousness we need to stand in the presence of God, and His death paid for the sins of all those who come to Him by faith.  He is the place of refuge.  He alone.  Further, the OT city of refuge could do nothing about the sinfulness of its inhabitants, innocent thought they might be in a particular instance.  The Lord Jesus came not only to pay the penalty for sin; He came to take care of sin itself.  The angel told Joseph, “He shall save His people from their sin, Matthew, Matthew 1:21.  Ultimately, this refers to the nation of Israel.  For the certainty of this, read Ezekiel 37, though the promise to Israel continues through the end of the book.  Only by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus does that promise extend to Gentiles in, and through, the “church”.  And imperfect as we in the church may still be in this life, He has promised us that there is coming a time when we shall be like Him, for [they] shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  I long for that time.  To be able to serve and honor God as He deserves!

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:20.

Oh, listen, do you know this place of refuge?  Have your sins been taken care of?  Is the Lord Jesus your hope of heaven, or are you trusting something you have done?  We live in troubled times.  They may get worse, they may get better.  But they will come to an end, and we will stand before the God Who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  People may belittle and despise and dispute the things of God now, but then….

…there will be no doubt!  But it will be too late!

Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation, 2 Corinthians 6:2, emphasis added.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

Hell is Real

A few years ago, there was a book titled, “Heaven is Real.”  It related the story of a young boy who was said to have gone to heaven.  The gist of the story is that, because of the experiences of this lad and his family, we can be assured that “heaven is real.”

In my last post, I said that, because of our sin, we have no claim on God, but He has a claim on us.  I said, “That claim concerns His justice.  We have broken His Law.  We have come under its penalty.  We have incurred a debt.  That penalty involves eternal separation from Him.”  Then I said I would have more to say in a later post, Lord willing.

This is that post.

Based, not on experience, but on the clear and authoritative teaching of our Lord, we can be assured of another truth about the future:  Hell is real.

There is a lot of discussion about the existence of Hell.

To some people, it’s nothing more than a curse word.

To some, who deny any existence beyond death and the grave, it doesn’t even exist.  Neither does heaven.

To some, the bad experiences of this life are hell.  One place I worked, one of the ladies there said she believed this life is hell.  Based on the difficult place we worked, I could understand her feelings, though I didn’t agree with her.  It’s the only job I ever held that, when I woke up in the morning, I was sorry I wasn’t sick, so I could call in.

To some who will knock on your door, “hell” is just the grave.  If that’s true, then why did our Lord warn us in Matthew 5:27-30 that if a part of our body leads us into sin, it would be better to cut off that part, rather than your whole body be cast into hell”?  Hell is not just the grave.

To some, hell is just about remorse and sorrow that one has missed out on the blessings of salvation.

In contrast to these ideas, our Lord gave a different view.  In Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV),He said,

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and say Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’.”

There’s some discussion as to whether this portion tells a real story or is just a story, a parable.  I think it’s real, but that doesn’t really matter.  Even if this is only a parable, well, Jesus’ parables were designed to teach and illustrate truth.  There is truth here.

1. There is existence after death.

If we had only the phrase, the rich man also died and was buried, we might be able to say that was the end of things for him.  But we have the account of the death of Lazarus and what happened, as well as the conversation he and the rich man had afterward.

This is in agreement with other Scriptures.  Hebrews 9:27 says, …it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment….  There is an “after” as far as death is concerned.  It isn’t the end of things.

This portion also tells us –

2. There is a time of reckoning after death.

…after this the judgment….  Matthew 5 doesn’t tell us everything about what happens to people after their death.  It’s designed to warn us that there is something after death, and that what happens in this life isn’t necessarily an indication of what will happen then.  The rich man lived a life of luxury and plenty, yet he wound up being tormented; the beggar lived in sickness and poverty, yet he wound up being comforted.

It’s widely believed that there is only “a better place” out there after death.  According to our Lord, that is not true.  There is also, if I may put it like this, “a bitter place.”    There is a time, and a place, where the things of this life will be examined and judged, a time when those who have “gotten away with it” will discover that, no, they haven’t.

3. There is a place of torment after death.

Luke 16:22b-24 says, The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

This isn’t the only place where the Lord mentions such things. In Mark 9:43-49, He said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone shall be seasoned with fire….”

This is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, especially in this day when the Word of God is generally held in such low esteem, and when faulty views of God are so prevalent.  How can a “God of love” send men and women to a place of torment?  People just can’t reconcile this idea with the idea that God could do such a thing, and so, reject it.

Our Lord teaches otherwise.

You see, as I said above, we have broken God’s law.  We are guilty and under sentence of its punishment:  eternal separation from God.  Though the body dies, the soul lives on, and the body will one day be resurrected, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation,” or as the KJV put it, “the resurrection of damnation,” John 5:29.

Don’t misread that “good” as though there are some who will go to heaven because of it.  Our Lord was speaking from the viewpoint of being under the Law, wherein there were some who were considered “blameless,” for example, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.  Luke 1:6 describes them as both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

“Blameless.”

Even the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, considered himself “blameless,” Philippians 3:6.  But, as he put it, “I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died,” Romans 7:9.  This has nothing to do with his “fellowship with God” being broken after his conversion, but rather, the cataclysm that occurred in his life as he traveled toward Damascus with the sole purpose of rooting out and destroying those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, cf. Acts 26:9-11.  Afterward, he looked at those things of which he had been so proud as no better than the refuse of his own body, Philippians 3:8.

Later in life, he wrote, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside, Romans 3:10-12.

“None righteous” –

None who measures up to the standards and requirements of God’s holiness.  There is a lot of “religion” among men, but, apart from the Lord Jesus, there is no righteousness for all that.

“None who understands” –

None who understand that we come short of what God requires of us.  None who understand that nothing we can do measures up to what God requires of us.  Indeed, some are offended at the very idea that God can “require” anything of us.

“None who seeks after God” –

None who understand that the only place to get that righteousness God requires is from God Himself.  That righteousness is the righteousness of Christ imputed to those who believe on Him.

Apart from that righteousness, we all stand condemned in the sight of God, John 3:18, He who does not believe is condemned already.  In a very real sense, to the unsaved person, this life is little more than a cell on death row, waiting for the day of execution.  For the unbeliever, a place in hell is as assured as a place in heaven is for the believer.

But how can that be?  How can that be “just”?

We question the “justice” of this because we minimize sin.  Let me put it this way.  If one swats a fly, nothing is thought of it.  If one were to assault me, well, that might be considered more serious.  If, however, one were to assault the President of the United States, that would be considered very grave indeed.  Why the difference?  Because of the dignity and position of the person assaulted.

Sin is an assault against God.  Since we have brought God down to a level below us (in that we believe that we can confound His will and prevent His purpose), we don’t think of it like that.  However, because God is infinite, acts against Him bear infinite consequences.

Sin brings an infinite consequence:  an eternity in hell.

When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, He suffered that consequence.  That doesn’t mean that He actually went to Hell; He did suffer that separation from God that is the essence of hell, Mark 15:34.

With our sanitized crucifixes and pictures, our superficial, “contemporary” Christianity, we have no idea whatever what that means.

It means that there is no salvation apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It means there is no escaping our sin and its eternal consequence apart from Him.   Apart from Him, everything we do is sin, Proverbs 21:4, even the providing of the necessities of life.  Why is that?  Because we do it with no thought of Him.

And, apart from Him, there is no hope, Ephesians 2:12.

This is why Scripture urges us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, because there is no salvation anywhere else, only condemnation, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.

“Kinsman-redeemer”

In our last post, we mentioned that the Hebrew word “go’el-haddam” had two meanings.  We looked at one meaning, “the avenger of blood,” an idea that no doubt seems strange, even offensive, to our current thinking.

The other meaning is, “kinsman-redeemer,” that is, a near relative who could pay one’s debt or perhaps buy him out of servitude, if he had been forced to sell himself or his property because of some need.  This aspect is mentioned in Leviticus 25:25, 47-54.  The first reference deals with redemption of property, the second with the redemption of persons who, for one reason or another, had been sold or had sold themselves into servitude.

The Book of Ruth illustrates the role and responsibility of such a “kinsman-redeemer.”  Ruth was the Moabitess widow of an Israelite, who came under the protection of Boaz, a wealthy landowner and relative of Naomi, her mother-in-law.  Ultimately, she became an ancestor of our Lord Jesus, Who Himself came to seek and to save that which was lost, Luke 19:10.  Do we not also call salvation, “redemption”?

I think we need to understand the OT roots of the idea of “redemption.”  The person who needed to be “redeemed” was, in view of that fact and generally speaking, helpless to redeem himself.  Granted, there were some few who might have been able to save up and pay their debts, but the whole idea was to help those who could not help themselves, those who were beyond help.  They were like those of whom the Lord Jesus later spoke who owed ten thousand talents, an enormous sum – millions of dollars to us, Matthew 18:24.

We have so diluted the idea of “salvation” in our day that it seems to be looked upon as little more than a band-aid, used to cover up a minor scratch, if even that.  (“God helps those who help themselves.”)  Or that we’re already “the children of God.”  While I would in no way deny or diminish human responsibility, the Scripture paints a far different picture.  So far from merely our being a little beat up by sin and needing an aspirin for our headache, Scripture teaches that we are dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1.  We are dead, buried, and utterly corrupt and decayed, with no more ability to recover ourselves spiritually than a corpse has to bring itself back to life.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I truly am sorry.  I don’t wish to add to your sorrow and grief.)

It’s true that spiritual death cannot be compared directly to physical death.  One who is spiritually dead may be alive physically.  A corpse sees nothing, knows nothing, feels nothing, wants nothing.  A sinner sees, knows, feels and wants a lot of things.

Perhaps the only similarity is that death brings separation.  Physical death brings separation from physical life and our loved ones.  Spiritual death has brought separation from spiritual life and God.  As Paul explained to the Ephesians about their (and our) lost condition before God:  that at that time [we] were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the worldEphesians 2:12, emphasis added.  Contrary to a lot of current thought, all roads do not lead to heaven.  Only one road leads there, and it’s narrow and difficult, Matthew 7:13, 14.

If salvation – or being saved – were the minor thing that it’s treated like, with a couple of “Hail Marys” or a few little “good works” or a little “profession of faith,” wherein the person “accepts Jesus,” but then goes his own way and never shows any signs of conversion – if that’s all “salvation” means, then why did it take the Son of God, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, taking to Himself a true and real human nature and body and dying on the Cross?

And why does Scripture compare salvation to a creation or a resurrection if it’s just a matter of form or ritual or the rote parroting of a prayer?

“Well,” someone might say, “Jesus loved us and died for us so that we have the opportunity to be saved.”

Is that all His death provided?

An “opportunity”?

While it’s true that without His death, there would be no such “opportunity,” yet His death was so much more than that.

Contrary to modern thought, the Gospel has nothing to do with the love of God, John 3:16 notwithstanding.  In the book of Acts, the early church never one time mentioned the love of God.  Paul explained what the Gospel is in the book of Romans.  The whole book is an explanation, but he summarizes it in a few verses in chapter 1:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…, Romans 1:16-20, emphasis added.

“Righteousness.”

“Wrath.”

Not a word about “love.”

If Paul had written according to today’s thought, he might have written something along the lines of a popular tract in my youth, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Again, the early church never once mentioned the love of God in its preaching.  Even in 1 John, “the message” isn’t that “God is love.” It’s true that 1 John 4:8 says that, but 1 John 1:5 says, This is the message which we have heard from him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, emphasis added.

True, there is some discussion about what “God is light” means.  Some think it refers merely to “knowledge,” and the Gnostic idea that there is a special level of knowledge that only a privileged few ever attain, and that John writes to refute that idea.  While that idea may have some validity, I think John writes of something much more important, namely, who is this God of whom he writes?  What kind of a God is He?

There were all kinds of “religion” in John’s day, and the gods of those religions were just bigger versions of the people who followed them.  The Greek and Roman gods were guilty of the same sins as their followers.

Contrary to what some seem to think today, the God of Scripture isn’t just a bigger version of ourselves.  I once heard a radio preacher say that if we magnified man a billion times, then we would approach some idea of God.  That’s not true.  If we could magnify man a trillion times, we’d be no closer to the idea of God than an ant has of quantum physics.  God is infinite, inhabiting eternity, Isaiah 57:15, and is holy beyond our comprehension, Isaiah 6:3.  We are creatures of a few seconds and then die.  The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk describes God as being of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness, Habakkuk 1:13.  Even though our souls are immortal and will never cease to exist, either in heaven or hell, we are just creatures, and, apart from His regenerating grace, are sinful beyond our comprehension.

We are sinners, not complimentary sinners, as in “Well, yes, I’m not perfect,” but deep down, dyed-in-the-wool sinners, in whom there is nothing good, Romans 7:18.

We have broken God’s law, all of it, every one of us, and are guilty in His sight.  As such, we owe a debt, not to “society,” but to Him.  If we ever stand before Him without the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ll discover the reality of that debt – that not a thousand lifetimes of perfect and sinless living, if we were even capable of it, could erase even one debt, let alone the incalculable number of which we are guilty.  How much less, then, that little dab of “devotion” and “good works” we think we have in this life?

Back to John 3:16.  John 3:16 is a great and wonderful truth.  Nicodemus was a Jew and, as some believe, likely thought that when Messiah came, He would destroy all Gentiles, no matter how “good” they were, and save all Jews.  God loved only Israel.  No Gentile could be saved, but had to come to God through the door of Israel.  That’s what the early church had trouble with – that one came to God through Christ, not Israel.  Our Lord was telling Nicodemus, “You’ve got it all wrong.  God loves the human race, not just one nation of it.  Messiah won’t come to condemn the world, but to save it, v. 17.

The trouble is, Jesus continued His comment, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God, v. 18.  This truth is totally ignored today, as is John 3:36, He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

There’s that word again….

“Wrath.”

Lost people have neither claim on nor right to the love of God.  They have broken His law, as have all of us.  He has a claim on us.

That claim concerns His justice.  We have broken His law.  We have come under its penalty.  We have incurred a debt.  That penalty involves eternal separation from Him.  We’ll have more to say about this in a later post, Lord willing.

For now, it’s enough to say that the Lord Jesus satisfied that claim, paid that debt for those who believe on Him for salvation.  God’s justice has been satisfied.

It no longer has a claim on believers.

For unbelievers, it’s still true that the wrath of God abides on them.  Their debt has not been paid.

Only in the Lord Jesus is there escape from our sins and the judgment due them.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

“The Avenger of Blood”

In our first post, we mentioned that there were things in the Mosaic Law which seems strange to modern minds.  Though there are several such things, the subject for this post is probably right near the top of the list.

What, or who, was the “avenger of blood”?

The Hebrew phrase is “go’el haddam,” literally, “redeemer of blood”.  The word actually has two meanings. There is the one set forth in our text, that is, that a near relative was to “avenge” the violent death of a family member.  The other one, perhaps more familiar, is that a near relative could “redeem” or pay back the debts of a family member.  We’ll look at this idea in our next post.

The idea of avenging murder or the death of a family member was set forth long before the time of Moses in Genesis 9:5, 6, where God told Noah, “Surely for your life blood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.  From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

“From the hand of every man’s brother….”

This idea was expanded and explained in the Mosaic Law.

There was no separation of the criminal from the victim’s family, as there is today.  Our whole justice system, under the guise of “fairness” and “impartiality,” has erected a number of barriers between the perpetrator and his victims.  Indeed, the [alleged] criminal is viewed as having acted against “the people,” not the victim.  A trial is couched in the terms of “the State vs.” whomever.  (It’s interesting, at least to me, that while I was working on this post, I was called to serve on a jury in an attempted murder case.  I couldn’t help thinking of this post and the others in the series as I was listening to the proceedings.)  If the victim does try to take things into his own hands, then he is in trouble with the law for wanting “revenge,” not justice – as the law sees it.

While I am NOT advocating a return to the Mosaic system, I do think our system leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to what we call “closure” for the victim and/or his or her family, and when it comes to addressing the damage and harm done to them, to say nothing of providing “justice” for a crime.

Although there are instructions scattered throughout the Mosaic writings, Deuteronomy 17:2-13 gives us something of an idea of what happened.  Though it starts of with those guilty of idolatry, vs. 2, 3, I think it includes any who were guilty of capital crimes, that is, crimes deserving death, v. 6.  There were several elements involved:

  1. “Diligent inquiry” was to make certain the charges were true.  They had to be true and certain, v. 4.
  2. A matter involving a death penalty, and there are more than forty such “matters” in the Law, required two or three witnesses, v. 6.  One witness was never enough.
  3. If a crime, or, sin, as Scripture views it, was verified, the perpetrator was taken to the city gate, v. 5.  This seems to have been immediately, with no time elapsed.  There were no “appeals,” no dragging out the case for years in various courts.
    In the case where I was a juror, the crime was committed August 31-September 1 of last year.  The defendant was arrested a little later – in September or October.  The trial was June 13-16, this year.  So, months passed.  And though he has been convicted, his sentencing is still 3 or so weeks in the future, subject to the convenience of the lawyers involved, after which he likely will spend time in prison.
    This wouldn’t have happened under the Mosaic Law.
  4. At the city gate, the witnesses were to be the first to stone the condemned person.  No doubt, this gave pause to witnesses to be absolutely certain of what they were saying.  It was a solemn thing.
  5. After step 4, the hands of all the people were to inflict the penalty on the perpetrator.  It wasn’t hidden away; it was public, and “society” was involved in carrying out the sentence.
    To some, especially to those who oppose the death penalty, all this may seem somewhat barbaric.  However, it lent a certain solemn reality to what was going on.  In the trial I mentioned above, among the exhibits the prosecution showed us were some forensic pictures of a man killed during the crime, not by the defendant in our trial, but by another man who was involved.  He had already been tried and sentenced.  One of the other jurors was very upset by the pictures.  I made the comment that it’s a little different when you see the real thing, as opposed to what we see in TV detective shows.
    We know TV pictures aren’t real.  Actors will get up and maybe will have to do the scene several times. The pictures in the trial were real.  The man slumped between two seats in an SUV was not going to get up after the pictures were taken and walk away.
    So it was in OT times.  To the spectators and participants, it was real.  It wasn’t just some segment on the 6 o’clock news.
    I think we’ve lost some, if not all, of this reality.  We’ve become so desensitized by video games and TV shows that we half-way expect crime victims to “get up and walk away.”  (If you’ve been the victim of a serious crime, I’m sorry; I don’ t mean to add to your burden.  You realize better than most that those who haven’t endured such things can’t really understand what you’re going through.)  And the perpetrators of such crimes have “rights” which cannot be violated, regardless of how they may have violated the rights of their victims.
    I did gain some appreciation for this during the trial.  Several times, the judge stressed that the defendant was considered innocent, even though charged with several crimes, until such time as he was actually convicted by a jury – us.  His being charged with a crime was not to be taken as guilt for those crimes.
    It was this way in the OT.  The person was only punished for a crime after he had been found guilty by the testimony of several witnesses, and I expect there was other “evidence,” as well.  But the punishment happened right away; it didn’t take years.
  6. One of the arguments for the death penalty is that it deters crime.  Opponents deny this, citing the horrendous numbers of murders that happen in this country every year.  They cry that we shouldn’t “add to the body count,” as I saw one such protester’s sign say.
    Perhaps one reason it doesn’t “deter” is the number of years it takes for the sentence actually to be carried out.  And it’s carried out privately, with only a very few people who actually view it.  There’s no sense of “this is what happens if you murder some one.”
    We’ve already seen what happens in other crimes – how the “perp” was responsible to his victim.  The OT Law was designed to show that there were serious consequences to breaking it.
    What does God have to say about the deterring effect of capital punishment?
  7. Actually, He says two things.  (1).  “All the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously,” v. 13.  When there are actual, swift, public, consequences for a criminal, people understand that.  But when there are years and years of postponements, with appeal after appeal, a sense of urgency is lost about a crime that happened years before.  And there was a second thing, something we never think about:  (2) “So you shall put away the evil from Israel,” v.7, 12.  How many times have we heard on the news of a person caught for a crime, who “has a rap sheet as long as your arm”?  In the Mosaic economy, that wouldn’t happen.  One reason for the death penalty was to “put away” for good those who murdered or were guilty of other serious offenses.  There was none of this serving a few years in prison and then being set free perhaps to do the same thing over again, and over again, and over again.  How many innocent victims have there been from such repeat offenders?  Remember the offender in an earlier post who was guilty of twelve sexual offenses.  That is not “putting away evil.”
    If anything, our modern system of “justice” enables it.

“no ransom”

In these last few posts, we’ve been looking at some of the provisions of the Mosaic Law, provisions which aren’t as familiar as the Ten Commandments.  Some of these things seem strange or harsh to our modern way of thinking.  The society of that time and nation was largely agricultural and rural, without any of what we consider “conveniences”.  It was what we might call a “basic” society:  people growing up, gettting married, having and raising kids, and taking care of their basic needs – without all the stuff we have to have today.

It gives us a much different view of “justice” than we’re accustomed to.

In our previous post, we looked at a little of what the Old Testament says about what was to happen to those who accidentally, without premeditation or animosity, killed someone.  Though there were still serious consequences to such an act, care was taken to protect such persons from those who would seek revenge.

This brings up the question, “What about those who killed with premeditation and/or animosity”?  The Scripture is clear.  Exodus 21:14 says, “If a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, then you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.”

(“from My altar….”  Though we have no Scripture telling  us it was to be used like this, apparently the bronze altar at the entrance to the Tabernacle was also a place of safety, though within prescribed limits.  We have an example, centuries later, of one who tried to use it illegally, 1 Kings 2:28-34.  Notice there the reference to “innocent blood,” v. 31.)

Numbers 35:9-34 gives a detailed explanation of things to be considered in deciding “guilt” or “innocence,” and who could or could not claim protection in a city of refuge.  Nor was there any way that a person who could live in a city of refuge would be allowed to leave before the death of the high priest, v. 32.  We’ve seen what could happen if they tried.

And there was no way a person found guilty of premeditated murder could escape the penalty: you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death, v. 31.

Our culture has gone a long way from such thoughts.  People who give little thought to the plight of victims will get very upset at the idea that the one who hurt them should actually pay for what he did.  A few years in jail, maybe, or even a “life sentence,” but no death penalty.  Of course, it’s important that the criminal show “remorse.”   So the victim and their family have the privilege of paying taxes to support a bloated, over-grown penal system in which the “constitutional rights” of murderers, rapists, and other felons are of paramount importance, while they themselves suffer the results of those crimes, endure the costs of their own recovery and healing, or while they have to live with the absence or suffering of a son or daughter, mother or father, wife or husband, brother or sister, or other family member.

Prison is no picnic, but then neither is being a victim of someone who in a system of true justice would not live to go there.

There were no prisons in the Mosaic Law.

We’ll have some more to say about this in the next post.

“Bloodguilt”

Here is a word that I don’t suppose is heard very often in legal circles:  “bloodguilt.”  It or the concept it describes is found more than 20 times in the Old Testament.

What does it mean?

It refers to the killing of an innocent person.  The shedding of “innocent blood.”

It’s one of the reasons ultimately given for the captivity and destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar.  In describing things leading up to that event, and even though he was dead and had been succeeded by Jehoiakim, 2 Kings 24:3, 4 says, Surely at the commandment of the LORD this came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the LORD would not pardon (emphasis added).  It’s thought that he had killed Isaiah the prophet, among others, though that isn’t known for sure.  Whoever his victims were, he was guilty in the eyes of the Lord and couldn’t be pardoned for his sin.

What does the Bible say about this sin that we don’t even think about today?  Or does it really matter?

1. It was forbidden.  In Exodus 23:7, God said to Israel, “do not kill the innocent and righteous,  For I will not justify the wicked.”

2. What about cases of accidental killing?  God provided for that, as well.  Deuteronomy 19:1-13 is the first of several instructions about this.  Originally, three cities were to be set aside, and later, three more, when the Lord had expanded the land.  These cities were called cities of refuge where someone who killed accidentally could be protected from those who would take vengeance on him.  We’ll talk about this part of it in a later post.  Roads were to be provided to each of these cities and, though it isn’t specifically mentioned, each of the cities was on a hill, to be easily seen.

An example is given of those who could flee to one of these cities:  if men were cutting down trees and an ax head slipped off a handle and struck and killed one of the other men.  The man whose ax it was could flee to one of these cities and be safe.  One proviso was the the man had not “hated” the other man “in time past.”  It could not be premeditated in any way, but had to be completely accidental.  Numbers 35:22, 23 gives a couple of other examples.

It’s true that the man, or, I suppose, woman, who fled to one of these cities had to stay there until the death of the high priest, Numbers 35:25.  Without getting into the complexities of the sacrificial system in Israel, the high priest was at times considered to bear the iniquities of the people himself.  His death was credited to those in the cities of refuge as theirs, and they could then return to their own homes and families, Numbers 35:28.  If they were then killed, their’s was considered “innocent blood,” Deuteronomy 19:10.  However, if the person ventured outside the city before the death of the High Priest, then he was fair game, as it were, Numbers 35:26, 27, because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest.

This may seem harsh to our modern sensibilities, but it goes to show the value that the OT placed on life, that even accidentally taking it had serious consequences.  At the same time, the cities of refuge were a protection to those who had taken it accidentally.

This didn’t just happen haphazardly.  There was to be an investigation, Numbers 35:24, the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments, that is, the conditions laid down in the Mosaic Law. By “congregation,” I take it to mean, this investigation wasn’t just left up to some “prosecutor’s office,” but the community, at least to a point, had some involvement.  Especially in small towns, and most of the towns in Israel were small, the people would know the victim and his killer and whether or not there was enmity between them.

Alright, then, what about unsolved murders?  Even though it might not be known who the killer was, Deuteronomy 21:1-9 tells us that there were still things to be done when a body was found out in a field.  The elders of the town nearest where the body was found were required to offer a specific sacrifice and disavow any knowledge of the matter.  Doing this would put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD, v. 9.  I suppose much the same thing might have been done in the case of an unsolved murder in town.

This matter of bloodguilt was a serious thing in Israel.  David prayed to be delivered from it.  In Psalm 51:14, he implored God, ‘deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God.  Since Psalm 51 is believed to have been written as a result of his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, he was praying for that for which there was no sacrifice and no forgiveness.  He didn’t die, but the child conceived in that sin did die, and David’s family was never the same afterward.

As we’ve already noted, the shedding of innocent blood was much of what brought about the captivity and destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar.  Even pagans recognized the seriousness of the charge of bloodguilt, Jonah 1:14: Matthew 27:24.

Perhaps, also, it sheds some light on Judas’ confession in Matthew 27:4, when he threw down the 30 pieces of silver he had received to deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies:

“I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

“…entitled to substantial compensation”

This title is taken from an advertisement on TV of some attorney trolling for customers, in which he says, “You may be entitled to substantial compensation.”  You’ve likely seen it yourself.  We live in a very litigious society.  If something offends or bothers someone, they are very likely to file a lawsuit, and there are multitudes of lawyers like the one we mentioned above who are more than willing to help them with it.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t legitimate needs for lawyers and that there aren’t good lawyers.  It’s just that there are too many who aren’t.

In an earlier post, we looked at Exodus 22 and what the LORD said was to be done in the case of theft or loss of property.  We passed over a verse that might have some bearing on our subject today.  Verse 9 says, For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.

If our country hadn’t become so corrupt, perverse and lawless, that last clause would do a lot to fix the glut of frivolous and fraudulent lawsuits:  “whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.”