“Judge with true justice, and deal with one another in loyal love and mercy.”—ZECH. 7:9.
1, 2. (a) How did Jesus feel about God’s Law? (b) How did the scribes and Pharisees misrepresent the Law?
JESUS loved the Mosaic Law. And no wonder! That Law came from the most important Person in Jesus’ life—his Father, Jehovah. Jesus’ deep affection for the law of God was prophetically expressed at Psalm 40:8: “To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is deep within me.” By word and deed, Jesus affirmed that God’s Law was perfect, beneficial, and sure to be fulfilled.—Matt. 5:17-19.
2 How pained Jesus must have been, then, when he saw the scribes and Pharisees misrepresent his Father’s Law! They meticulously obeyed some of its smallest details, for Jesus acknowledged: “You give the tenth of the mint and the dill and the cumin.” So, what was the problem? He added: “But you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matt. 23:23) Unlike those self-righteous Pharisees, Jesus grasped the spirit behind the Law, the divine qualities reflected in each commandment.
3. What will this article consider?
3 As Christians, we are not under the Law covenant. (Rom. 7:6) Yet, Jehovah preserved that Law for us in his Word, the Bible. He wants us, not to obsess over the details of the Law, but to discern and apply its “weightier matters,” the lofty principles that underpin its commandments. For example, what principles might we discern in the arrangement of cities of refuge? The preceding article outlined lessons learned from the steps taken by the fugitive. But from the cities of refuge, we also learn about Jehovah and how we may reflect his qualities. Therefore, this article will answer three questions: How do the cities of refuge reveal Jehovah’s mercy? What do they teach us about his view of life? How do they reflect his perfect justice? In each case, look for ways that you can imitate your heavenly Father.—Read Ephesians 5:1.
“CITIES CONVENIENT FOR YOURSELVES”—AN EXPRESSION OF MERCY
4, 5. (a) How and why were the cities of refuge made easily accessible? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah?
4 The six cities of refuge were easy to access. Jehovah commanded Israel to distribute the cities evenly on both sides of the Jordan River. Why? So that any fugitive could find refuge quickly and conveniently. (Num. 35:11-14) Roads leading to the cities of refuge were kept in good repair. (Deut. 19:3) According to Jewish tradition, guideposts were erected to direct fugitives to the cities. Since the cities of refuge were available, an unintentional manslayer was not forced to flee to a foreign land, where he might be tempted to take up false worship.
5 Think of it: Jehovah—the very One who had mandated capital punishment for willful murderers—gave unintentional manslayers ample opportunity to receive compassion and protection! “Every thing was made as plain, as simple, and as easy as possible,” wrote one commentator. “Such was God’s gracious way.” Jehovah is not a heartless judge who is eager to punish his servants. Rather, he is “rich in mercy.”—Eph. 2:4.
6. How was the Pharisees’ attitude in contrast with God’s mercy?
6 The Pharisees, in contrast, were reluctant to extend mercy. For example, according to tradition, they were unwilling to forgive the same offense more than three times. Jesus highlighted their attitude toward offenders by relating an illustration of a Pharisee who prayed: “O God, I thank you that I am not like everyone else—extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers—or even like this tax collector”—a tax collector who was humbly praying for God’s mercy. Why were the Pharisees so unwilling to show mercy? The Bible says that they “considered others as nothing.”—Luke 18:9-14.
7, 8. (a) When someone sins against you, how can you imitate Jehovah? (b) Why is forgiveness a test of humility?
7 Imitate Jehovah, not the Pharisees. Show compassion. (Read Colossians 3:13.) One way to do so is to make it easy for others to seek your forgiveness. (Luke 17:3, 4) Ask yourself: ‘Is my forgiveness within reach of people who have wronged me, even repeatedly? Am I eager to restore peace with someone who has offended me or who has hurt me?’
8 Forgiveness is really a test of humility. The Pharisees failed that test because they considered others to be inferior. As Christians, however, we must humbly “consider others superior” to us, as worthy of our forgiveness. (Phil. 2:3) Will you imitate Jehovah and pass the test of humility? Keep the “road” to your forgiveness open and in good repair. Be quick to extend mercy and slow to take offense.—Eccl. 7:8, 9.
RESPECT LIFE, AND “NO BLOODGUILT WILL COME UPON YOU”
9. How did Jehovah impress on the Israelites the sanctity of human life?
9 A key purpose of the cities of refuge was to protect the Israelites from bloodguilt. (Deut. 19:10) Jehovah loves life, and he hates murderous “hands that shed innocent blood.” (Prov. 6:16, 17) A just and holy God, he could not ignore even accidental bloodshed. True, an unintentional manslayer was shown mercy. Even so, he had to present his case before the elders, and if his deed was judged accidental, he had to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. This might mean spending the rest of his life there. These serious consequences impressed on all Israelites the sanctity of human life. To honor their Life-Giver, they needed to avoid any action or inaction that could endanger the life of their fellow man.
10. According to Jesus, how did the scribes and Pharisees show a careless disregard for life?
10 Unlike Jehovah, the scribes and Pharisees showed a careless disregard for life. How so? “You took away the key of knowledge,” Jesus told them. “You yourselves did not go in, and you hinder those going in!” (Luke 11:52) They were supposed to unlock the meaning of God’s Word and help others to walk on the road to eternal life. Instead, they directed people away from “the Chief Agent of life,” Jesus, leading them toward a course that could end in eternal destruction. (Acts 3:15) Proud and selfish, the scribes and Pharisees cared little for the life and welfare of their fellow humans. How cruel and unmerciful!
11. (a) How did the apostle Paul show that he shared God’s view of life? (b) What will help us to share Paul’s attitude toward the ministry?
11 How can we avoid the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees and imitate Jehovah? We should respect and treasure the gift of life. The apostle Paul did that by giving a thorough witness. As a result, he could say: “I am clean from the blood of all men.” (Read Acts 20:26, 27.) Still, neither guilt nor duty moved Paul to preach. Rather, he loved people, and their lives were precious to him. (1 Cor. 9:19-23) We should likewise strive to cultivate a godly view of life. Jehovah “desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) Do you? You may find that kindling a merciful attitude in your heart will motivate you to increase your zeal in the ministry and fill you with more joy as you do so.
12. Why is safety important to God’s people?
12 We also share Jehovah’s view of life by cultivating a proper attitude toward safety. We must drive and work safely, even when we are building, maintaining, or traveling to places of worship. Never put production, finances, or schedules ahead of safety and health. Our just God always does what is right and proper. We want to be like him. Elders in particular strive to be conscious of both their own safety and the safety of those working around them. (Prov. 22:3) If an elder reminds you of safety rules and standards, therefore, accept his counsel. (Gal. 6:1) View life as Jehovah views it, and “no bloodguilt will come upon you.”
“JUDGE . . . IN HARMONY WITH THESE JUDGMENTS”
13, 14. How could Israelite elders reflect Jehovah’s justice?
13 Jehovah commissioned Israelite elders to imitate his high standard of justice. First, the elders needed to establish the facts. Further, they had to weigh carefully a manslayer’s motive, attitude, and previous conduct when deciding whether to show mercy. To reflect divine justice, they had to determine whether the fugitive acted “out of hatred” and “with malicious intent.” (Read Numbers 35:20-24.) If the testimony of witnesses was considered, at least two witnesses had to substantiate a charge of intentional murder.—Num. 35:30.
14 Thus, after establishing the facts of the case, the elders had to look at the person, not just the action. They needed insight, the ability to look beyond the obvious and to see into a matter. Above all, they needed Jehovah’s holy spirit, which would enable them to reflect his insight, mercy, and justice.—Ex. 34:6, 7.
15. Contrast the way Jesus and the Pharisees viewed sinners.
15 The Pharisees focused solely on what a sinner had done rather than on who a sinner was at heart. When Pharisees saw Jesus attending a banquet at Matthew’s home, they asked his disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus replied: “Healthy people do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. Go, then, and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:9-13) Was Jesus excusing serious wrongdoing? Not at all. In fact, Jesus’ principal message included the call to repent from sin. (Matt. 4:17) Nevertheless, Jesus insightfully noted that at least some of these “tax collectors and sinners” wanted to change. They were not at Matthew’s home simply to eat. Rather, “there were many of them who were following [Jesus].” (Mark 2:15) Sadly, most Pharisees failed to see in such ones what Jesus saw. Unlike the just and merciful God they claimed to worship, the Pharisees labeled their fellow men sinners, condemning them as hopeless.
16. What does a judicial committee endeavor to discern?
16 Elders today must be sure to imitate Jehovah, who “loves justice.” (Ps. 37:28) First, they need to make “a thorough investigation and inquiry” to establish if wrong has been done. If it has, they will then handle the case according to Scriptural guidelines. (Deut. 13:12-14) When they serve on judicial committees, they must carefully determine whether a Christian guilty of serious sin is repentant. Repentance—or the lack of it—is not always obvious. It involves a person’s viewpoint, disposition, and heart condition. (Rev. 3:3) A sinner must be repentant if he is to receive mercy.a
17, 18. How can elders discern heartfelt repentance? (See opening picture.)
17 Unlike Jehovah and Jesus, elders cannot read hearts. If you are an elder, then, how can you meet the challenge of discerning heartfelt repentance? First, pray for wisdom and discernment. (1 Ki. 3:9) Second, consult God’s Word and publications from the faithful slave to help you distinguish “sadness of the world” from “sadness in a godly way,” genuine repentance. (2 Cor. 7:10, 11) See how the Scriptures portray both repentant and unrepentant ones. How does the Bible describe their feelings, their attitude, and their conduct?
18 Finally, endeavor to see the whole person. Take into consideration a wrongdoer’s background, his motives, and his limitations. Regarding the head of the Christian congregation, Jesus, the Bible prophesied: “He will not judge by what appears to his eyes, nor reprove simply according to what his ears hear. He will judge the lowly with fairness, and with uprightness he will give reproof in behalf of the meek ones of the earth.” (Isa. 11:3, 4) You elders are Jesus’ undershepherds, and he will help you to judge as he judges. (Matt. 18:18-20) Are we not grateful that we have caring elders who endeavor to do that? How we appreciate their tireless efforts to promote mercy and justice in our congregations!
19. What lesson from the cities of refuge do you plan to apply?
19 The Mosaic Law reflected a “framework of the knowledge and of the truth” about Jehovah and his righteous principles. (Rom. 2:20) The cities of refuge, for example, teach elders how to “judge with true justice,” and they teach all of us how to “deal with one another in loyal love and mercy.” (Zech. 7:9) We are no longer under the Law. Yet, Jehovah does not change, and the qualities of justice and mercy are still important to him. What a privilege to worship a God in whose image we are made, whose qualities we can imitate, and in whom we can take refuge!