Refuge: Joshua 20

Coincides with Sunday,  October 30, 2016

In every era and civilization, there are those who are forced to flee for their lives. In ancient Israel, even before the people had settled into the land of Canaan, the law of Moses prognosticated this need (Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:6, 11-14; Deut. 4:41-43, 19:2-9). Even in cases in which one person accidentally killed another, there would be a very real possibility of revenge. Six cities were set apart to which asylum seekers could flee and there await the judgment of the congregation.

Preliminary question

  • For an opening discussion, consider together the plight of asylum seekers in Hong Kong. What are some of the issues they face?

TAKING IN: Understanding?

  • What are the repeated words and ideas?
  • Read all the preceding references to cities of refuge in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. What stands out to you about these cities?
  • Observe where the six cities on the map. What stands out to you about the location?
  • What is the relationship between the cities of refuge and the Levites? What is significant about this relationship?
  • What was the responsibility of the city elders? Discuss together some reasons that could eventually cause this system to break down?

    Excursus: an interesting story: On the Big Island of Hawaii rest the ancient ruins of Pu’uhonua. In his “Letters from Hawaii,” Mark Twain described it as, “A vast enclosure whose stone walls were 20 feet thick at the base and 15 or 20 feet high; an oblong square, 1040 feet one way, and a fraction under 700 the other.” When a native of Hawaii broke a “kapu,” a sacred Hawaiian law, the offender was automatically sentenced to death unless he or she could flee to the City of Refuge where the “Big Kahuna,” or high priest, lived. Once inside the walls he or she was safe and protected from judgment. Later, the Big Kahuna would perform a rite of purification, declare forgiveness and innocence, and set the person free to begin a new life. Click here to read more about this.

  • How does the above story illustrate the gospel?

LIVING OUT: Applying

  • What is the responsibility of the asylum seeker? What is the responsibility of those seeking asylum? In your experience (or according to your knowledge) how well are individuals and states fulfilling their responsibilities?

  • Hong Kong accepts many asylum seekers? How well do you think our city reflects the biblical values?

  • Consider the statement, “All of us are refugees.” Do you agree?

  • Read Psalm 46 together slowly and quietly in light of this chapter about refuge. Use this psalm to focus your thoughts that God is truly our refuge in all of life.

  • How does Jesus fulfill the ideal of the city of refuge? (See, for example, Hebrews 13:13-14.)

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