Numbers 35:9-34 – The Ox-Bow Incident, My Ex-Wife, and Liberals’ Reaction to The Election: What Do These Things Have in Common

Posted: November 20, 2016 in 04-Numbers

Numbers 35:9-34

Cities of Refuge

I remember, back in high school, one of my favorite books that was required reading in my sophomore year Literature/Writing class was the book, The Ox-Bow Incident. The Ox-Bow Incident is a 1940 western novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark in which two drifters are drawn into a lynch mob to find and hang three men presumed to be rustlers and the killers of a local man. Clifton Fadiman wrote an introduction to the Readers Club edition in which he called it a “mature, unpitying examination of what causes men to love violence and to transgress justice,” and “the best novel of its year.” In 1943, the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name, directed by William A. Wellman and starring Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan. In the book, these men in the lynch mob decide to hang three men without allowing for a fair trial. The mob mentality takes over. There was a presumption of guilt from the beginning. There were preconceived notions that took over and led to the lynching of the men they found at the campfire. It reminds us that we must seek justice above all and not to take the law into our hands.


That book profoundly affected me as a teenager. It was a reminder that we should be quick to give someone the benefit of the doubt and slow to jump to conclusions. It was a reminder that everyone has a back story that may play into how they react to you. It was reminder that we must examine all the facts of a situation before go off half-cocked about something. Typically, when we have knee-jerk reactions about things it ends up backfiring in our face. My first ex-wife was this kind of person. She acted first and thought later. She would go with her first instinct on things and assume that a person intentionally hurt her. She had an I am right and you are wrong mentality, an “if I believe it; it must be true” mentality, an “automatically assume the worst about others” mentality. Certainly, there are benefits to this type of personality. You never let people run over you and you are a keen defender of your own rights. However, that me-first mentality seemed to make more enemies than it did friends. With me, I tended to overanalyze things to the point of taking no action at all or walking away wishing I had said something to protect my own rights and didn’t. However, more often than not, to be less quick to judge and less quick to jump to conclusions about other people is a good thing. It often preserves relationships when we do not react quickly and harshly to situations.


The liberal faction of our nation seems have this knee-jerk reaction mentality in the aftermath of the election. They seem convinced without evidence of Trump even officially being in office that he is wrong just because he is not their candidate. They riot in the street and Trump has not even been inaugurated yet. He has not yet made the first executive decision. They automatically assume that he is going to be Satan in office and he hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. He has yet to occupy the oval office and he is already being branded. He is already being hung from a tree just like in the Ox-Bow Incident. I say let the man govern first. Let him actually give you something to protest about first. This knee-jerk reaction of the liberals is the very closed-mindedness that their accuse people on the right of possessing. Just because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, they assume that he is going to be worse than a dictator in a South American country. Let’s give the man a chance I say. Let’s not lynch him until he actually governs. Let us allow the checks and balances of our form of government move him toward the center of reasonableness and not the outlandish bluster of his campaign rhetoric. Let us not hang him without a fair trial. Let us find evidence before we execute him.


It was this idea of justice before assumptions of guilt that I thought of today when I read through this passage for today, Number 35:9-34. Let’s read it together now:


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 anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand 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 and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.


16 “‘If anyone strikes someone a fatal blow with an iron object, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 17 Or if anyone is holding a stone and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 18 Or if anyone is holding a wooden object and strikes someone a fatal blow with it, that person is a murderer; the murderer is to be put to death. 19 The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death. 20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at them intentionally so that they die 21 or if out of enmity one person hits another with their fist so that the other dies, that person is to be put to death; that person is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when they meet.


22 “‘But if without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally 23 or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended, 24 the assembly must judge between the accused 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 the accused back to the city of refuge to which they fled. The accused must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.


26 “‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which they fled 27 and the avenger of blood finds them outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. 28 The accused must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may they return to their own property.


29 “‘This is to have the force of law for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live.


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.


31 “‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death.


32 “‘Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow them to go back and live on their own land before the death of the high priest.


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.’”


In this passage, we see that if anyone died because of violence, murder was assumed, but the murder suspect was not automatically assumed guilty. The cities of refuge assured the accused that justice would be served. If the person left the city of refuge, then he or she would be assumed guilty and could be killed by the avenging party. The people were to be intolerant of sin yet impartial to the accused so as to have a fair trial. The cities of refuge represented God’s concern for justice in a culture and a period in history that did not always protect the rights of the innocent. If is unjust both to overlook wrongdoing and the jump to conclusions about guilt. When someone is accused of wrongdoing, we must stand up for justice, protect those not yet proven guilty, and listen carefully to all sides of a story and examine all of the evidence before arriving at the conclusion that someone is guilty. We should offer grace first and judgment only after all the evidence is in.


That is what I see that we should be doing both the liberal and the conservative when it comes to Trump. As conservatives, we must not automatically assume that Trump is going to be all that we have hoped for. We must allow him to govern first and see what he does. Same goes for the liberals, don’t vilify him before he takes office. Allow him to govern and see if there is actually evidence that he is going to be the ogre that you expect.


Let us be that way in our personal lives. Let us be a people who give grace first and judgment second. Let us love first and jump to conclusions second. Let us demonstrate love in the face of evil. Let us pray for our tormentors rather than lash out at them in hate. Let us understand the back story of a person as to why they react a certain way rather than just assume that they are an ass. Let us weigh the evidence of a person when we react instead of just reacting from a place of hurt pride. Let us be known as a loving people rather than people of hate. Let us love those who live in opposition to God’s Word rather than automatically writing them off as unsavable by the grace of Jesus Christ. We were once lost too you know! Let us love like Jesus did. Let us be quick to love and slow to anger.


Amen and Amen.

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