Judge, jury, executioner
Rules, rules, and more rules. The law-making for the Israelites seemed to never end, even after 40 years of wandering through the desert together. You would think that all the bases should have been covered by this point, but in today’s chapters, we see that a couple more issues cropped up that needed to be addressed – accidental killings and female heirs.
As we wrap up another book on this journey through the Scriptures, we learn that there were special places for killers to run to until they were judged. This reminded me a little bit of modern-day jail, where accused criminals await their trial date. However, these cities of refuge were often the last stop for anyone accused of murder.
If found guilty, the accused would face the death penalty at the hands of someone designated from the victim’s family to be the avenger. But, if the crime was accidental, the accused could return to the community and resume his normal life, but not right away. For some reason, he had to wait for the high priest to die, however long that took.
In order for me to grasp what I’m reading, I often try to place myself into the text, as though I’m experiencing whatever the people on the pages are going through. This often leads to a lot of questions, such as...
What were those cities of refuge were like?
Were they terrible places to live?
Were the accused allowed to move about freely in these cities, or were they confined like those in jail?
How did the accused survive once they arrived in these cities?
Did they have shelter?
How did they eat?
Did they flee alone, or did they take their families?
If alone, then were they allowed to have visitors?
What prevented them from leaving the cities of refuge, in search of a life elsewhere, especially if they knew they would be found guilty and given the death penalty?
Were there avengers lurking around constantly waiting for an opportunity to strike down the offenders?
I don’t really expect answers to all of my questions, but just asking helps me to digest what I’m reading. The events on the page become more tangible, and less abstract. These are real people to me, not imaginary characters. And, so I try to relate to them as a fellow human being.
Daughters as heirs
What’s difficult for me to relate to, though, is how male-dominated the ancient world was. The census figures only included males. Land was divided amongst the tribes based on the number of males, not total numbers. Tribes with larger numbers of men received a larger piece of land as their inheritance. The bigger the tribe, the bigger the land.
So, of course there would be a dilemma if a man had only daughters, no sons. Upon his death, his daughters would inherit his slice of land. And, her future husband would then gain control of that slice. If I were in the position of one of these daughters, I might be more than a little perturbed that my inheritance would be decided upon by a bunch of males. But, that’s exactly what happened.
When the elders raised a concern, Moses decided that the daughters could only marry men from their own tribe, in order to keep their inheritance in the family, so to speak. They still had hundreds, if not thousands, of young men to choose from. So, perhaps this rule didn’t bother them. Perhaps they were so accustomed to the customs of their time that they didn’t give it a second thought.
As the Israelites began to put down roots in the land God promised them, I’m sure more laws and rules had to be established in order to manage the masses. Even nowadays, there’s new legislation that's instituted every year, whether on a local, state, or national level. As civilization continues to evolve, so do its laws.
What did you think of the book of Numbers? Feel free to comment below, or by visiting my Facebook page.
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