Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Always Room for Mercy...

God is amazing. He is all about justice. Yet, He is all about mercy as well. I myself sometimes find it hard to do both at the same time: justice and mercy. And yet, we always find God in the Bible as perfectly both.

Usually, if I am to err, it tends to be on the side of justice, or should I say "judgement"? I would have made a good Pharisee. While I might not appear this way on the outside to my colleagues, I can have a judgmental (if not critical) heart and spirit. It seems to come easier than the mercy side.

But God is wholly (and Holy) both.

When He, through Joshua, divides out the allotments to the tribes of Israel, as each of the tribes received their portion, He also does an incredible thing. The land is given along with the laws of the land: how they are to live. The law is clear. It is justice. It is to be God's model for the nations who are to see Israel, how they live in relation to one another and to their God, and to come to know and fear the One, True God, Yahweh.

But in the midst of giving His laws of justice, God also provides an avenue of His mercy. He commands Joshua to set aside cities of refuge. Places that people can flee to when they in truth deserve swift community justice for an action they have taken. They were to be refuge cities in order that...

"...a person who kills someone unintentionally or accidentally may flee there. These will be your refuge from the avenger of blood. When someone flees to one of these cities, stands at the entrance of the city gate, and states his case before the elders of that city, they are to bring him into the city and give him a place to live among them. And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not hand the one who committed manslaughter over to him, for he killed his neighbor accidentally and did not hate him beforehand. He is to stay in that city until he stands trial before the assembly and until the deat of the high priest serving at that time..." (Joshua 20:3-6)

The person would still have to answer for their actions but would be provided a safe haven to state their case. They still could be found guilty and punished; but the fact of having a "refuge" showed that our just God is also a God of mercy.

Finally, it is interesting to note that there were six (6) cities of refuges. And while each of these cities were located inside the allotment areas of various tribes (Judah, Ephraim, Manasseh, Napthali, Reuben and Gad), every one of these cities were "priestly" cities or cities that were given to the Levites who had no particular geographical inheritance. In other words, the city of refuge was to be a city inhabited by the Levitical/priestly family who were also the upholders of the law. I find it interesting to note that the most law driven, justice minded family in the nation of Israel was also given the task of being the mercy bearers (through the appointment of their cities as cities of refuge).

Justice and mercy. They are two sides of the same coin. And for me, it means that there is always room for mercy.

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