Scripture Reading: Numbers 35:9-28
Teaching Lesson: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 105, 106, 107
In Exodus 20:13 God says, “You shall not murder.” Or as some Bible translations state it, “You shall not kill”. All in all, this seems like one of the easier commands to keep. Very few people ever go so far as to “murder” a fellow human being. However, there’s a bit more to understand from this the command. Leviticus 19:16 explains the Sixth Commandment further saying, “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.” In other words, this is about protecting and preserving the life of your neighbor. Q&A 105 of the Heidelberg Catechism says, “I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds.”
This is an excellent summary of God’s Will – too bad it seems impossible to do this in this day and age. Now more than ever, the world as it is, is messed up and practically incapable of obeying the Sixth Commandment as God would have us do so. For example, it’s easy to put a sign on the front lawn that says, “No Hate Here” but it takes only a brief conversation with the owner of that sign – just a couple of sentences – and you can unleash a volcano of hatred. What’s the reason for the anger, the division, the tensions, and such that plague our public discourse? Why do we still show hate? We are becoming less capable of showing grace towards those with whom we disagree. We all struggle with grace: promoting it, receiving it, and giving it.
What was the first murder that took place in the Bible? Who killed whom?
What are some of the ways we are “grace-less” and show no love to our neighbour?
The bad news is we are sinners who are incapable of loving our neighbours. What is the good news?
In our reading from Numbers 35 something unique is introduced in the life of God’s people as they prepare for life in the Promised Land. In this text the Lord explains to Moses that a number of towns are to be given to the Levites that will be designated as “Cities of Refuge”. In Old Testament Israel, this was a place where a person who had accidentally killed another person could flee from the “Avenger of Blood”. In ancient times, it was the duty (not merely the “right”) of this Avenger to seek revenge for the murder of a family member.
How does a “City of Refuge” demonstrate God’s desire to preserve life?
Does God’s law require that a murderer be put to death?
In Numbers 35 God demands the death of a murderer, but remember God’s justice demands the death of all sinners. Divine justice demands your death and mine. But [thanks be to God] the death penalty has already been executed for us. On the cross the death penalty was paid for in full through the death of Jesus Christ. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Numbers 35 must be heard in the light of Christ. Before we come to a wrong conclusion we must know Who is at the center of the text.
How do we “hear” Christ in our text from Numbers 35?
Where was the “death penalty” finally executed once and for all?
What is another way of understanding the “Avenger of blood”?
The Avenger of blood is also the Kinsman-Redeemer. It’s the same word in our text and this helps us see a bigger picture.
We worship a God who brings life and protects life. In Christ, God has gone to great lengths in order to bring us back from death. In Q&A 107 we have a summary of what God now expects from us who live by the Spirit. It says, “God tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.” These are challenging words for a challenging world. This world is the place where we shine the light of God’s grace. We do so in our homes, where we work, our schools, in politics, and maybe even in social media. No longer do we set up “Cities of Refuge” because wherever the gospel of Christ is proclaimed and lived out, grace is proclaimed to all sinners who repent and believe the good news. In this way we live by the Spirit