A city of refuge? Nice idea.
The Torah of Israel had a lot of crazy ideas.
You know, things like the Year of Jubilee when all slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all the land reverted back to its original owners. Crazy! I mean, who would ever do something like that?
Or the provision for cities of refuge. A city where you could find safety if you had inadvertently injured or killed someone and people wanted blood payment right away, regardless of any due process.
And here’s the thing. The Jubilee legislation isn’t some naïve overestimation of the people’s ability to seek economic justice. Rather, we need something like the Jubilee precisely because God knows something about the human penchant for oppression, foreclosure and exploitation.
That same thing can be said about cities of refuge. We have already seen this semester at Wine Before Breakfast that the Bible has no modern liberal cheap optimism about urban life. We have already seen that the city is, in the Bible, ambivalent at best.
Cities are walled-structures – both literally in ancient times and at least metaphorically in modern times. They were originally built for the security of their inhabitants and the areas around them that were under the control of the city.
Cities are places of safety. They actually are supposed to be for refuge.And people continue to come to the cities throughout the world today looking for refuge. Whether we are thinking of the rural poor who gravitate to the city for protection from the poverty and hunger on failing farmlands, refugees fleeing oppressive regimes abroad, or the abused teenage girl who needs refuge from an abusive home, people flock to cities looking for refuge.
But they seldom find it.
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