Deuteronomy 19:1-13 – The Game of Tag and The Home Base Tree

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Book of Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 19:1-13

Cities of Refuge

I remember back in the dog days of summer when I was a kid that being outside from daylight til dark was a must. We wanted to be outside. Being stuck inside for any reason in the summertime was torture. We wanted to be outside. We wanted to be playing football, basketball or baseball. We wanted to exploring the woods. We wanted to be riding bikes all over town. We wanted to hang out with our friends. I remember one of the games that we would play was the old standard, “tag, you’re it” game. There were rules for the game, of course. There were always rules for every game, right?

 

In this game, all you need is a group of kids and a decent sized backyard. You get a group of kids together that could even include girls! You would establish a home base tree to start from. You use the rock, paper, scissors game to determine who is the first “it”. Then, at the home base tree, the first “it” must count to 10 while all the other game participants run away from the home base tree so that there is a good distance between the “it” person and them by the time the “it” person has gotten to the count of 10. Then, that person runs around and tries to tag (touch) someone else. If they succeed, the person they touch is now “it”. The new “it” must stop in his tracks, close his eyes, and count to 10 and the process repeats itself and repeats itself. One way to avoid being caught or tagged is that home base tree. If you were being chased, you could avoid the sentence of being “it” by making it to home base tree and touch it. You could stand there and continuously touch it. As long as you were touching the home base tree (or other object chosen as home base), the “it” person could not tag you and make you the new “it”. He would have to pass on you and move on and try to tag someone else. I was pretty good at tag because I was fast as a kid and had the ability to have elusive moves. If chased, I could use my speed and my moves to get back to home base tree pretty often. I hated being caught and made it. It felt so unjust to be it. Everyone running from you like you had a disease or something so I would always desperately try to make it back to home base tree where no one could touch you. This was a summertime game that  you could play all afternoon. The game continues until everyone is exhausted or bored or the ice cream truck came through the neighborhood! The canned music of the ice cream truck coming through the neighborhood would send us all scurrying to our houses to find a dollar bill from mom or dad or from our rooms. Tag would be over then and everyone would sit around eating their ice creams, ice cream sandwiches, drinking a slushee or icee. Good times!

 

It was that idea of a place of refuge that made me think of home base tree in the game of tag this morning as I read through today’s passage, Deuteronomy 19:1-13. Let’s read through it together now:

 

19 When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, 2 then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. 3 Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

 

4 This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. 5 For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. 6 Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. 7 This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities.

 

8 If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, 9 because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him—then you are to set aside three more cities. 10 Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.

 

11 But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbor, and then flees to one of these cities, 12 the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die. 13 Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.

 

Every society must deal with murder. But how should society treat those who have accidently killed someone? God had an answer for the Israelites. Since revenge killings were common and swift in Moses’ day, God had the Israelites set apart several “cities of refuge” Anyone who claimed that a murder was accidental could flee to one of these cities until he could have a fair trial. If he was found innocent of intentional murder, he could remain in that city and be safe from those seeking revenge. These cities were the cities given to the Levite priests. These cities were chosen by God because the Levites could be impartial judges since they were not affected by inheritances, business deals, and greed. The Levites would hold preliminary hearing outside the cities gates while the accused person was kept safe inside the city until the time of trial. If the killing was judged accidental, the person would be allowed to stay in that city until the high priest of that city passed away. At that time, the previously accused would be allowed to go free from the city of refuge and he could start a new life without worrying about avengers. If the death was ruled to be intentional, the person would be delivered outside the city walls of the city of refuge to be executed by the avengers of the murdered person.

 

This process reminded me of the game that we used to play when we were kids. In the game of tag, that home base tree was our city of refuge. It was the place that the “it” person could not touch you. You were safe there. No longer could “it” chase you down and transfer the disease of being “it” to you. It was a place where you could catch your breath from an afternoon running around your backyard all willy nilly at top speed. Tag can be a tiring game so that home base tree was a much-desired respite from the game. That home base tree was kind of like the cities of refuge that are the subject of today’s passage under review.

 

These cities of refuge in the Bible are a beautiful example of how God blends justice and mercy to His people. There was a trial where the merits of the case were considered by the high priest. The accused would meet his fate if found guilty or he would be allowed refuge in the high priest’s city so that he could start a new life afterwards if he were found innocent. These cities of refuge and their high priests hearing the evidence and making a decision are symbolic of what Jesus does for us.

 

Jesus is our city of refuge. We stand accused of sin that condemns us to death. But by calling upon His name as our Savior and Lord we are allowed to enter into His refuge and start a new life in Him. He is our home base tree. He sets us free to live in the freedom from being tagged by sin and becoming that “it” that adjudged and condemned by our sins. Jesus will also be the righteous judge one day when at the end of all things, He would come to judge the world. Those that are His will be brought into his city of refuge, his home base tree, and all others will be cast out into the fiery lake.

 

Is it not time for you to seek refuge in Jesus Christ? Is it not time for you to come into His city of refuge? Is it not time to come to Jesus’ home base tree? There is new life and new freedom in Jesus Christ! Come to Him now before it’s too late? Either at your death or at the end of all things, whichever comes first, you will stand trial for your sins (and each of us has many more sins than we want to count) and be cast out into the darkness and condemnation that awaits us in hell or will you take refuge in Jesus Christ and beg Him to cover you in His sinlessness? Will you take refuge in Jesus’ city? Will you touch his home base tree and be set free from being “it”?

 

Amen and Amen.

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