Jehovah’s Merciful Provision
THE laws that Jehovah gave to the nation of Israel truly reflected his attributes of wisdom, justice and love. Particularly highlighting his justice was the statute that required that the malicious bearer of false witness be punished with the injury he sought to bring upon another: “The judges shall investigate the matter carefully, and if it turns out that the witness is malicious and that he has given false witness against his fellow, you must treat him as he meant his fellow to be treated; so shall you eradicate evil from your midst. The others shall hear and fear and never again be guilty of such a sin. You must have no mercy upon him; life for life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.”—Deut. 19:18-21, Mo.
On the other hand note the most merciful provision Jehovah made for the man who accidentally killed another; so that his life would not become the prey of the vengeance of the dead man’s relatives: “When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer that killeth any person through error may flee thither. Ye shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan; they shall be cities of refuge.” In view of the fact that there were neither bridges nor ferries spanning the Jordan, this provision for cities on each side was vital.—Num. 35:10, 11, 14, AS, margin.
“And this is the case of the manslayer, that shall flee thither and live; whoso killeth his neighbor unawares, and hated him not in time past; as when a man goeth into the forest with his neighbor to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, so that he dieth; he shall flee unto one of these cities and live: lest the avenger of blood pursue the manslayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and smite him mortally; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.”—Deut. 19:4-6, AS.
The six cities of refuge were among the forty-eight that were given to the Levites because they had no inheritance in the land. Upon the arrival of a manslayer to the city of refuge there was a trial by the elders of the city to determine whether the slaying was truly accidental or not. If it was not accidental then the manslayer was turned over to the slain man’s close-relative avenger to be put to death; if it was accidental then the manslayer, while having his life spared, was obliged to remain in this city of refuge until the death of the high priest serving at the time. Failure to remain in the city could cost him his life.—Num. 35:26-28.
Note that this merciful provision was available only if such a one “hated him not in time past”. Thus even here God’s law carried the implication that to hate one’s neighbor was as murder. (1 John 3:15) How wise God’s laws! How they uphold the majesty of his justice, while at the same time exalting his merciful kindness!
This merciful provision of God’s law for Israel, being among ‘all the things that were written aforetime for our instruction’, has the greatest interest for us today. (Rom. 15:4, NW) How so? Let us see.
THE NOACHIAN COVENANT
Shortly after Noah and his family emerged from the ark Jehovah God made a solemn agreement with them. Among its terms were: “I will hold men accountable for one another’s lives; whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. I put my rainbow in the clouds, and it shall be a symbol of the covenant between myself and the world. . . . the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it, and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature.”—Gen. 9:5, 6, 13, 15, 16, AT.
The nations themselves have flagrantly violated this covenant by waging many wars and by willfully and maliciously persecuting Jehovah’s servants. Regarding such violation of his covenant Jehovah says: “The earth is polluted through the touch of its inhabitants, because they have transgressed laws, violated statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.” “For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.” Concerning Satan’s Babylonish organization it states: “In one day her plagues will come, death and mourning and famine, and she will be completely burned with fire, because Jehovah God who judged her is strong. ‘Be glad over her, heaven, also you holy ones and you apostles and you prophets, because God has judicially exacted punishment for you from her!’”—Isa. 24:5, AT; Isa 34:2; Rev. 18:8, 20, NW.
Although this destruction at the hand of Jehovah is coming upon the rulers of the nations, they are not the only ones that are guilty in the sight of God. All those who have shed blood at the bidding of commercial, political and religious leaders are likewise guilty. And not only that, but to the extent that the people have given their support to such rulers, to that extent they also share in blame for the violation of the covenant concerning the sanctity of life. However, just as with the Israelites back there, Jehovah today has made provision that those who have been unwittingly involved in such bloodshed and persecution, that is, without willfulness and malice, may escape the death penalty by fleeing to modern “cities of refuge”.
FINDING REFUGE TODAY
The Hebrew word translated “refuge” is used and applied only to these cities, and has the thought of an asylum or place of protection and safekeeping. What is this asylum? What are these modern cities of refuge? Since these cities of refuge were Levite cities and therefore composed of inhabitants who were specially dedicated to and engaged in Jehovah’s service, they would well picture the organization of dedicated anointed Christians today, the new world society that they are forming, the new system of things under which they operate. And since when has this place of refuge been made available to such unwitting manslayers, men of good will? Particularly since 1918, when the hope of surviving Jehovah’s vengeance at Armageddon was strikingly advertised in the lecture “The World Has Ended—Millions Now Living Will Never Die”.
Who is the avenger of blood? According to God’s law the official executioner was to be a close relative, a near kin. In fact, the Hebrew word for avenger indicates that he was the close relative. The near kinsman or close relative of the human race who has been appointed as God’s official executioner and avenger of all the blood unrighteously shed and for the persecution of his servants is Christ Jesus. By being born as a man he became the close relative of humankind.—Gal. 4:4, 5.
That Jehovah God has appointed him as judge and executioner is clearly to be seen from the Scriptures. “For the Father judges no one at all, but he has committed all the judging to the Son. And he has given him authority to do judging, because Son of man he is.” (John 5:22, 27, NW) “He judges and carries on war in righteousness. And he is arrayed with an outer garment sprinkled with blood, and the name he is called is The Word of God.” The place where he will execute his judgments against all violators of the Noachian covenant “is called in Hebrew Har–Magedon”.—Rev. 19:11, 13; 16:16, NW.
The Scriptures speak of the avenger’s blood being hot. The heart of Christ Jesus is indeed hot with righteous indignation against those who have willfully violated God’s covenant. Like Jehu, he will proceed furiously against his enemies. (2 Ki. 9:20) This indicates that there is an urgency about fleeing to the city of refuge, God’s organization, now. As Jehovah through Jeremiah warned: “Flee from the midst of Babylon, save everyone his life; perish not through her guilt, for this is the LORD’S time of vengeance—due recompense is he repaying to her.”—Jer. 51:6, AT.
Upon arriving at the city of refuge the judges or elders of the city passed on the manslayer’s right to remain in it. These elders or judges would well picture the mature dedicated anointed Christians today who are a part of the new system of things. They pass on the worthiness of manslayers to remain in the city in that they point out to such the Scriptural requirements for being spared at Armageddon, and in that they warn the willfully wicked of their impending execution by the avenger of blood, Christ Jesus.
Even as the Israelites were forbidden to take a ransom for a murderer or for one who had fled to a city of refuge so that he could return to his home, so today no one can buy his safety with worldly goods. “Wealth is of no avail on the day of wrath; but righteousness saves from death.” (Num. 35:31, 32; Prov. 11:4, AT) They must become residents of the city of refuge by exercising faith in Jehovah God and in his Son, Christ Jesus, as their Savior and Redeemer and must dedicate themselves to Jehovah God. To such the command is given: “Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who do his will; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.”—Zeph. 2:3, AT.
How long must these remain in the city of refuge? Until the death of the high priest, or until after Armageddon, when the last of the priestly members of Christ’s body die to join their Lord in the heavenly realm. Until that time let all dedicated servants of Jehovah make known his merciful provision for sparing unwitting manslayers, and let all men of good will, lovers of righteousness, take advantage of the merciful provision of Jehovah by fleeing to these cities of refuge, God’s organization.