Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Chiswick women's refuge, 1971. Still going strong, 50 years on.
The Lord also spake unto Joshua, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses: That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.
— Joshua 20:1-3
Although the Levites inherit no land, they are allocated 48 cities throughout the territories of the other eleven tribes in which to dwell, with six of those cities being designated as refuge cities for those fleeing blood vengeance. The term manslayer refers to someone who has killed another without intent, but is likely to be killed himself in retaliation. Such a refuge was considered necessary to protect the slayer and avoid further bloodshed. It is striking that such a law was put in place, that whole cities were given over to house those who had committed manslaughter. The safety of the one accused of murder, but innocent of the intent, was paramount.
It is the great compassion in this law, it's attention and care towards the individual who has made a mistake, which stands in sharp contrast to the horrific annihilation of the Canaanite residents, systematically being carried out at the same time. It's hard to align these two approaches to the creation of a nation. On the one hand, ethnic cleansing, on the other great love towards the individual wrongdoer.
It is easier to understand allegorically. Each of us has the potential for great anger, which often stems from our sense of self-importance: I am the most important person, how dare they! The Israelites, as God's chosen, had this as a whole nation, and it justifies their slaughter of others. We have this today, just as strongly. It shows up in wars, of course, but it also shows up in ideological battles, where many are driven in thought and deed to annihilate those who do not share their views. At the same time, there is the potential in each of us to self-care, to love ourselves back into balance. We each need our internal cities of refuge, places to retreat from our own anger, to forgive ourselves, even if that is only in sleep. Overcoming anger and self-righteousness requires refuge. What this story tells me is that I need to create this place for myself, this refuge of peace and forgiveness. It won't just happen. Attention to self-care is vital in a world dominated by battles of supremacy.
1 This is a reminder of the law given to Moses in Numbers 35:6, And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither: and to them ye shall add forty and two cities.