Then the LORD said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. Joshua 20 vv 1-3
Revenge killings have always been a feature of more primitive civilisations. We have even seen this in recent years in various African countries where ‘ethnic cleansing’ has taken place. It seems a very natural reaction – “You killed someone in my family, so we will kill you too.” But it is a wrong reaction, and our law recognises the difference between murder, which is premeditated, and manslaughter. From the very beginning of their time in the Promised Land, revenge killings were outlawed – there had to be a proper trial and justice. The principle had been established back in Moses’ time – you can read all about it in Numbers 35, and how the Levites had responsibility for governing these cities of refuge. It makes for sound and fair justice in the land.
The principle is an important one – revenge of any kind is a totally wrong motive for action. Jesus had a lot to say about in Matthew 5 vv 38-45. “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
Getting your own back on people who cause you pain, loss or damage is a characteristic that should never be part of the Christian make-up. The dominant aspect of our lives is to be love, and that never seeks revenge for any hurt or rebuff.
For reflection: Do you ever find yourself thinking about getting your own back – with difficult family – or awkward work colleagues – or noisy neighbours? How do you handle the thought?