Cities of refuge are required and defined to provide a place for those to accidentally kill someone to hide. Given the size of the growing population of Israelites there are enough people that this is a real possibility. Even further as the population continues to grow. “Set aside for yourselves three cities in the land…set aside three more cities…” Deuteronomy 19:2,9
Moses recaps rules about witnesses as well, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” Deuteronomy 19:15. People are prone to evil. Establishing a well defined legal system is there to protect society, to define rules and limits.
Going to War. It’s interesting that there are four provisos for opting out of a particular battle: 1) new house, 2) new vineyard, 3) pledged in marriage and 4) fainthearted. If you’ve built a house, but haven’t moved in; planted a vineyard, but haven’t enjoyed it’s harvest; or haven’t married the woman you have been pledge to–don’t go to war. You’ll be distracted with thoughts of home. This is one of the hardest things about being in the military, but we learn to suck it up and endure the separation. Not good, but not the end of the world.
The last one, however, is really significant: “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” Deuteronomy 20:8 Seriously. Don’t go into battle half-hearted. I can’t pretend to understand battles or war in ancient times, and honestly, I don’t want to dwell in that space, but I can imagine that having someone next to me in battle that is filled with fear would be devastating. Even in much less dangerous situations (e.g., work, school, etc.), being around those who are fainthearted has great negative consequences. Lift each other up, encourage each other. We don’t have to do this alone. These are all good ideas as long as they start with confidence that what we are doing is in the will of God. If we are attuned to His way of thinking, we should attack whatever challenge we have with confidence.
“You must purge evil from among you” is found four times in this reading. Seriously, let’s remove evil from our midst. As a society that has gravitated to selfish desires, it’s easy to see how this will become a significant problem. On the other hand, if we learn how to live in community, how to get along with our neighbors; if we build trust and act with integrity, then we will enjoy our time here on earth. We may even be the beacon of hope we preach about! What a concept! No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to stone everyone who makes mistakes, but I do see a lot of practical wisdom this morning.