Refugees and Sanctuary Cities


Sanctuary Cities and Refugees have been in the news a lot lately.  
But where does the concept of sanctuary cities come from?  
And what was its original intent?

Not surprisingly – its original intent in nothing like what we see today.
Maybe what is a surprise – it started way back in the time of Moses.

And – it was started by none other than God.
“Cities of refuge” were required for His people!
So what were they really for?

We have to go to the book of Numbers to see the beginnings of what is now called sanctuary cities.

Joshua was named by God to replace Moses as the leader of His people.
The Israelites had just been given various commands for offerings that were to be made –

  • Daily offerings
  • Sabbath offerings
  • Monthly offerings
  • Passover
  • Feast of weeks
  • feast of trumpets
  • Day of atonement
  • Feast of tabernacles

What is a city of refuge?

Then, The Lord told them to set up “Cities of refuge”, as we read in Numbers 35.

Nu 35:6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. 7 In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. 8 The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”
Nu 35:9 Then the LORD said to Moses: 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 11 select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12 They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly. 13 These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. 14 Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. 15 These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites, aliens and any other people living among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.

There’s quite a bit that follows after these verses – and I’ve included them below – but here’s the big takeaway as far as why they were set up:

They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly.

First – the avenger.  

avenger, one who extracts satisfaction from or punishes a wrongdoer. In the ancient Near East, reliance on avengers to ensure justice was evident when strong governmental authority was lacking. In some biblical texts, blood vengeance, the execution of a murderer by the avenger, is recognized as a custom sanctioned by God (Gen. 9:5–6; Num. 35:16–21), although this custom is to be limited by a sense of compassion and mercy (Gen. 4:10–16; Num. 35:9–15, 22–28). Unlimited vengeance is presented as part of the lawlessness that led to the flood (Gen. 4:23–24).

Collins, A. Y. (2011). avenger. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, p. 68). New York: HarperCollins.

In case it wasn’t quite clear with just the word murder in that verse, hopefully this does the trick. 
This was all about someone accused of murder.  Not some lesser crime.  Murder.

Second – standing trial.

so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly

This is about justice.  For instance what the concept if justice is about –

Justice is the abstract concept of the resulting state of proper judgment. In a legal sense, judgment refers to the process of defending the righteous and condemning the guilty. Together, these concepts form the basis of righteous governance in an emulation of the kingdom of God.

Garrett, J. K. (2014). Justice. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

and here’s how justice was to be carried out in the time of Joshua –

The OT concept of “justice” and “judgment” is grounded in responsible and merciful governance. Israel’s “judges”—whether warriors, prophets, priests, or kings—had full governing authority over the people. The standard by which Israel’s governors were measured was their ability to reign fairly and justly. They were to hear complaints fairly, not showing partiality for family, friends, or financial gain (e.g., Deut 16:18–20). They were to advocate on behalf of the needs of the oppressed. They were to live according to God’s law and emulate God’s justice, especially by advocating for the needs of oppressed, righteous persons.

Garrett, J. K. (2014). Justice. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Justice is incredibly important to God.

For instance, in Isaiah we read –

Isa 30:18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

Notice – along with justice, we also have graciousness and compassion.  They all go together.  At least they do in God’s kingdom.

Paul writes an excellent summary of why Jesus had to die –

Ro 3:21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Notice some of the words – grace, redemption, justice, atonement.
Jesus had to die – because there had to be a price paid for all the things that we have done against each other – and against God.
Justice demands some sort of atonement for wrongs that are done.
The good news is that we don’t have to pay the price ourselves – unless, of course, we really want to.  (Translation – when we reject His offer to pay for us.)

As promised – here are the rest of the verses from Numbers that relate to cities of refuge –

Nu 35:16 “ ‘If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 17 Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 18 Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 19 The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. 20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies 21 or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
Nu 35:22 “ ‘But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally 23 or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, 24 the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. 25 The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.
Nu 35:26 “ ‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he has fled 27 and the avenger of blood finds him outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. 28 The accused must stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may he return to his own property.
Nu 35:29 “ ‘These are to be legal requirements for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live.
Nu 35:30 “ ‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
Nu 35:31 “ ‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.
Nu 35:32 “ ‘Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow him to go back and live on his own land before the death of the high priest.
Nu 35:33 “ ‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’ ”

We read a bit more about cities of refuge in Joshua, chapter 20 –

Jos 20:1 Then the LORD said to Joshua: 2 “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
Jos 20:4 “When he flees to one of these cities, he is to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state his case before the elders of that city. Then they are to admit him into their city and give him a place to live with them. 5 If the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not surrender the one accused, because he killed his neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 6 He is to stay in that city until he has stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then he may go back to his own home in the town from which he fled.”

Here we see more detail about the trial.
Yes – there is a trial.  It’s not a “get out of jail free” card.

There will be a trial to determine that the situation really did involve murder – and was not an accident.

What is a “sanctuary city”?

For such a controversial topic, I thought I’d go to a liberal site for a definition.  This statement comes from CNN.

There’s no legal definition of a sanctuary city, county or state, and what it means varies from place to place. But jurisdictions that fall under that controversial term — supporters oppose it — generally have policies or laws that limit the extent to which law enforcement and other government employees will go to assist the federal government on immigration matters.
Some communities use nonbinding resolutions, executive orders, police department policies or orders, while others use laws to enforce such policies, according to the Congressional Research Service.
In San Francisco, for instance, a 1989 law called the City and County of Refuge ordinance prohibits city employees from helping federal immigration enforcement efforts unless compelled by court order or state law.
 
The key takeaways here –
 
First – it’s not just murder.  It’s anything at all related to the politically correct title of “undocumented immigrant’.  The problem with that, of course, is the inconvenient reality that being an undocumented immigrant is illegal.
 
Second – there is no justice.  There’s not even a trial.  Regardless of the crime – from the illegal entry into the country up to and including potentially the crime of murder. And yes, murders are committed by some people who get around the law in today’s sanctuary cities.
 
Third – and maybe most importantly – the following are also not included – grace, redemption, atonement, justice.
  • grace – grace is a gift from God.  Further, it is a gift that comes with a “string” attached, of sorts.  It’s a gift that can be accepted or rejected.  
  • redemption – redemption was made possible by acceptance of the gift of grace, and the fact that atonement was made.
  • atonement – speaking of atonement, that involved the death of Jesus on the cross.
  • justice – justice is what comes about as the result of a trial.  As I said earlier – no trial – no justice.  How can there be justice without any kind of statement as to what happened?

Leaving out all of these things – grace, redemption, atonement, justice – really does mean a “get out of jail free” card for the person who commits the crime of entering the country illegally.

You may have noticed – it does something else as well.

What’s that other thing?

Profiling.

And before you say that’s a good thing to leave it out – think about this.  While there’s a perception (not passing judgment on whether it’s right or wrong) that profiling is what causes people to be picked out for potentially having come into the country illegally.  By not going after people who are in the country illegally, I submit that profiling still takes place.  But it’s reverse profiling.  In order to not offend some people – proof of being here legally cannot be asked for.  In order to prevent some people who “appear” to be here illegally from being picked up by ICE – normal penalties are ignored – and maybe even the people are ignored.  For the people who appear to be here legally – is that not profiling?  By ignoring people who may have committed the “undocumented” “thing” – but not those who look like they probably have documents – is that not profiling?
Yes – some would say it’s grace and compassion for the “undocumented” people.  But I have to ask – where’s the grace and compassion for the “documented” people?
It’s not there.
Is that really fair?

And what about the justice, grace and compassion for the people who went through the immigration process the way they should?
What kind of grace and compassion have they received?
Where’s the justice for them?
Are they supposed to just feel dumb for having followed the rules?

what is fairness?

“Fair” is probably in the eye of the person deciding what’s fair and what isn’t.

Maybe that’s why we read this in Proverbs –

Pr 2:1 My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
Pr 2:2 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
Pr 2:3 and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
Pr 2:4 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
Pr 2:5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
Pr 2:6 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Pr 2:7 He holds victory in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
Pr 2:8 for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Pr 2:9 Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
Pr 2:10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Pr 2:11 Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.

Pr 2:12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
Pr 2:13 who leave the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
Pr 2:14 who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
Pr 2:15 whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.

I know – that’s a lot to read.
Let’s focus on this –

Pr 2:9 Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
Pr 2:10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Pr 2:11 Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.

Are you upset yet?

I’m guessing the answer for most of you is “Yes”.

Some will be upset because I seem to have a negative impression of sanctuary cities.
Others will be upset because you think I’m supporting sanctuary cities.
Still others will be upset because I brought God into the picture.

Truth is – the ones who are most correct, are the ones who are upset because I brought God into the picture.

The simple truth is that there is a severe lack of justice with sanctuary cities.
While the Cities of Refuge” were all about justice –
sanctuary cities are all about avoiding justice.


Hopefully you are upset about something I wrote here.
That was the goal – to get you to a point where you feel something.
Having said that – please don’t send comments about your feelings related to today’s sanctuary cities.  
Because they are not the point of this article.

No – the point of getting you to feel something is to try to get you to a point where you really think about the conclusion.

Conclusion

Another word from Proverbs –

Pr 30:5 “Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

If we truly want justice – God’s way is the only way to achieve it.  
Otherwise – it’s skewed to the rich, powerful, and corrupt people.

That bring up an interesting question – especially for those who don’t feel good about what I’ve included from Proverbs.
And this is the real question.

What do you think of this as the ultimate City of Refuge and the ultimate Sanctuary City –

Ps 62:5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
Ps 62:6 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
Ps 62:7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Ps 62:8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

If you don’t like it – if you think I’m not “fair” or “compassionate” – in your eyes –
you certainly have that right.

But, do you realize that you are also saying you want no part of God’s justice?
That you want no part of His redemption, His grace, His atonement?
That you want no part of His kingdom.
That you want no part of Heaven?

If that’s you – where then do you expect to find your “sanctuary city” in the next life?

 

 

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