17 Thou shalt not kill.

The word for kill (ratsach [raw’-tsakh]) means “to dash in pieces, i.e. kill (a human being), especially to murder. The Divine prohibition is against the gratuitous taking of a human life and so the word is correctly translated in the Complete Jewish Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, and the New King James Version. The Law of Moses mandated the killing, or the taking of human life, in time of war, and when societal justice was administered. The Law mandated capital punishment for various crimes

Adultery                                              Leviticus 20:10

Bestiality                                             Exodus 22:19

Cursing a Parent                                 Exodus 21:17

Disobedience to a parent                    Deuteronomy 21:18

Divination                                           Exodus 22:18

Falsely Prophesying                            Deuteronomy 13:1-10

Homosexuality                                    Leviticus 20;13

Incest                                                   Leviticus 20:14

Murder                                                            Exodus 21:12

Offering a human sacrifice                 Leviticus 20:1

Rape                                                    Deuteronomy 22:25

Striking a Parent                                 Exodus 21:15

Every society has to determine which aberrant societal actions are worthy of execution. At least 132 nations have abolished the death penalty. But 52 nations, as of 2018, including America, does enforce the death sentence employing a variety of methods for terminating life including hanging, shooting, lethal injection, electrocution, and beheading. About 25 death row inmates were executed in the United State in 2018.

On January 15, 2019, John Gardner, 64, received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the January 2005 fatal shooting of Tammy Gardner. Prosecutors said the couple was getting divorced when Gardner broke into his wife’s North Texas home and shot her in the head as she lay sick in bed. She died two days later at a hospital.

Asked if he had any last words, Gardner apologized to his wife’s son, daughter, and mother.

“I would like to say sorry for your grief,” he said. “I hope what I’m doing today will give you peace, joy, closure, whatever it takes to forgive. I am sorry. I know you cannot forgive me, but I hope one day you will.”

“Gardner became the first inmate put to death this year in Texas and the U.S. Seven other executions are scheduled in the next few months in Texas” (FOX NEWS).

During the Old Testament era, in the Jewish economy, the Torah, the Law of Moses mandated capital punishment, but also recognized that sometimes a killing took place by accident. Though the Law was harsh, it was not unjust or unreasonable, and so provided cities of refuge, or sanctuary cities which people could flee to in order to have an opportunity to defend their actions.

The Divine provision for those involved in an accidental killing is found in Deuteronomy 19.


4 And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;

It is clear that the Law of Moses was determined that only the guilty should be punished. A provision was made for those who killed someone “ignorantly”, or by accident, should live! While humans devalue life, God does not. The Lord wants individuals to have life, and that more abundantly.

The super-abundant life is the obedient life.

The super-abundant abundant life is the life that does not hate, and will not retaliate when an accident occurs.

To illustrate the point of law being established concerning an accidental death, Moses provides the following example.

5 As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour 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 neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live:

Suppose that a man goes to cut wood. He is not aware that the axe he is using has a lose axe head. He swings the axe to cut the wood, but the axe head flies off the handle, strikes an innocent bystander, and kills him. By any objective standard, it was an accident. There was no homicidal negligence involved. There was no malicious aforethought. There is only a tragic accident.

6 Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.

Unfortunately, the loved ones of the person hurt do not always care whether or not the accident was intentional or not. All they know is that someone they cared for is dead. Their hearts are broken. Their lives are changed forever. The source of their livelihood may have been taken from them without reason. In anger they want someone to pay. Their own hearts cry out for revenge. They will pursue the slayer to his own death though “he was not worthy of death.

A natural response for revenge is anticipated by the Lawgiver. A provision was made for the person who, while not innocent of killing, is not worthy of death. Such a person could flee to a city of refuge.

Three Sanctuary Cities

7 Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee.

8 And if the Lord thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers;

9 If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:

Initially, there were to be three sanctuary cities. However, with the conquest of the Land of Promise, and the expansion of territorial gains, more sanctuary cities were to be established.

The establishment of these sanctuary cities were not just to protect the innocent, and maintain order in society, there was a spiritual component to them as well. There is always a spiritual component to every facet of life.

Stephen E. Strang makes this point in his book, God, Trump, and the 2020 Election. He points out that the hatred so many Americans have for President Trump can be traced to the spiritual warfare Christians are part of, for the President opposes abortion, defends religious liberty from government encroachment, and wants to restore prayer in public schools.

The sanctuary cities established by the Torah were spiritual in nature.

First, the cities of refuge reflected the character of God. God is holy, just, and good. Tyrants, and dictators, care nothing about truth or justice. They act in the moment of passion, and decide on a whim what punishment is to be administered. The sanctuary cities provided a place of safety until passions could cool down, and the truth was established that no harm was intended.

Second, the cities of refuge were a place of hope and life. Once inside the place of refugee an innocent person was to be protected and kept from harm, no matter how passionate those who pursued might be. There was hope that the truth could be established.

Third, the cities of refuge were prophetic of the Messiah that was to come, in whom all sinners could find hope of forgiveness, and life everlasting, not because they were innocent, but because there was a Substitute payment made for the penalty they rightfully incurred.

“He paid the debt he did not owe,
I owe the debt I could not pay,
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand-new song,
Amazing Grace,
All day long,
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.”

Fourth, the cities of refuge established the principle of justice.

Justice in Sanctuary Cities

10 That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee.

The Lord God demands justice in the land. One reason why nations collapse is from internal injustice. Some great civilizations in history have collapsed because of foreign conquest. Others have disintegrated from internal corruption.

When national politicians talk about being prayerful people, and then rise from their knees to vote legislation to slaughter babies in the womb in the name of free choice, there is internal rot in the soul of a nation.

When government leaders promise to uphold a righteous and reasonable Constitution, and then pass laws stripping the citizens of their freedom, there is a moral decay in the soul of a nation.

When degenerate men and women find a way to gain power over people through promises they cannot keep, or by-passing liberal laws that do not punish the wicked, then that nation is sloughing its way to Sodom, and certain societal death.

When the largest percentage of a nation forgets to honor the Lord God, and ignores His holy commandments, there is bound to be national disintegration, for God will not be mocked. The blood that flows will be upon those who failed to show mercy, and who did not seek truth, and justice.

No Sanctuary for Sin

11 But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities:

12 Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.

13 Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee.

As wonderful and important as the cities of refuge were in the Law of God, they were not to be abused. A guilty person was not to flee to a city of refugee and expect to live without their situation being investigated and evaluated. If found guilty, then the elders of the city were to execute the person who hated someone enough to murder them. No mercy was to be shown to the guilty, because the guilty had shown no mercy to their victim. Those who kill, will kill again. Those who rape, will rape again. Those who lie, will lie again.

Each week in America, stories are told of an illegal who has arrived, only to flee to a modern sanctuary city, in defiance of Federal Law, and then mugged, murdered, raped, or robbed again. They should have been arrested. They should have been punished. But they are free to hurt again.

On Wednesday, January 16, 2020, Reeaz Khan, 21, a Guyanese national who is in the country illegally, was arrested. Having fled to a sanctuary city, New York, on January 6, 2020, Khan violently attacked and raped 92-year-old women as she was walking home near Liberty Avenue and 127th Street around midnight.

The Law of Moses did not allow for the guilty to go without accountability, and punishment, when found guilty.

This facet of the cities of refugee also reflected the essence of the Lord God who severely punishes the guilty. There is a place called Hell. It is a real place, for real people, who do not confess the wrong they have done, repent, and seek mercy.

Learn then the spiritual lessons of the Cities of Refuge, and reconsider societal justice.

One Reply to “Societal Justice and Sanctuary Cities”

  1. Dr. Murrell,
    I am so blessed through your writings. It was such a joy to meet you when you attended our church, Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Versailles. KY. Thank you for your thoroughness of Scripture and boldness for truth. Our state just elected a new governor who is funding at least three new abortion clinics and desiring to have sanctuary cities so you see why your article touched my heart so deeply. May the Lord have mercy on us and may we be in deep prayer for those in authority who need the Lord. God bless you.

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