Questions and Answers

Q: I just finished a study on cities of refuge from the book of Joshua. The thing that struck me was the fact that in the Old Testament "Thou shalt not kill" The word is Ratsach which means all forms of killing whether it was a accident or it was deliberate. The New Testament for "thou shalt not kill" is Phoneuo. It has two meanings slay or murder. The question in my mind is from one of the commentators, explaining Numbers 35:32 and numbers 35:33---any killing whether intentional or not polluted the land and defiled the land therefore the slayer had to be removed from the land. If it was intentional he was put to death, if it was a accident he could go to a city of refuge. Can you comment on what I have said? Is it accurate?

Answer: I have pondered over your question, but I am having difficulty understanding what it is you are asking. If you are wanting me to comment on what the commentator has written, then I need to know the entirety of the context of which he wrote.

Maybe you are questioning the Scripture concerning the differentiation between murder and manslaughter. If so, then the Lord provided cities of refuge of safe havens for the accused until a fair trial could be conducted. If the accused is found guilty of intentional and premeditated murder the guilty person would be surrendered to the avenger, kinsman of the victim, for execution. A person could only be found guilty and deserving of the death penalty by the testimony of two or more eye witnesses, Deuteronomy 17:6-7, 19:15. These witnesses would be the first to inflict the execution.

If the accuser was found innocent of murder he would be returned to the city of refuge to which he originally fled. He would reside within this city until the death of the current high priest. If he left the city before the death of the high priest and discovered by the kinsman of the victim, the avenger could kill the individual without penalty to himself.

The Lord placed significant importance on the sanctity of life and the blood. The life of the flesh is in the blood and ultimately the blood of the 'Lamb of God', Jesus Christ, would shed His innocent blood for the redemption of man. When an individual killed another, they destroyed one created in the 'image of God'. Therefore, taking the life of someone exacted a harsh penalty, regardless of the motive. Any people group that failed to enforce the required penalties concerning the death of an individual caused the land, nation, to become polluted. "Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel" (Numbers 35:34).

I hope this helps, but if not, please revise your question and resend. I'll visit the subject again and attempt to provide a more adequate biblical answer.