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are an awful and instructive instance of the justice of God in making signal guilt its own avenger, and furnish a striking illustration of the observations made by the psalmist and his wise son: “ Behold he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate. I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness; and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high."* “ The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made, in the net which they bid is their own foot taken. The Lord is known by the judgement which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.”+ “ For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be hoiden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction : and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray."
- In the faint resistance made by the Midianites to a force so small, we behold the native tendency of vice to enfeeble and enervate. Sunk in effeminacy and sloth, they are overcome as soon as attacked. Strong in cunning, they are destitute of true wisdom, and defective in valour. The foe that assaults, that conquers them, is within. “ The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous is bold as a lion." Addictedness to the pleasures of sense gradually, though insensibly, encroaches on all the nobler principles of our nature, undermines and subverts them. Every spring of the soul is relaxed through disuse; the bodily powers become languid, and the sluggish giant becomes an easy prey to the active and vigorous child. Exercise your faculties, and they will increase and improve: neglect them, and they will quickly fall into utter decay. Fear God, maintain "a conscience void of offence," and bid defiance to what earth and hell can do against you.
-In the freewill offering of these grateful Israelites for protection and deliverance in the day of battle, bebold a laudable example of attention to the ways of Providence, and of thankful acknowledgement of them. Let friends, after the days of separation are at an end, after the hour of danger is past, reckon their numbers. Do they remain entire, not one missing, is no allay mingled with the joy of reunion ? It was the hand of God that supported; he“ gave his angels charge concerning you." "He covered you with his feathers; his truth was your shield and buckler; no evil befel you, no plague came nigh your dwelling.” “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; offer unto him thanksgiving, honour him with your substance ;” present " the calves of your lips," the devotedness of your hearts, the obedience of your lives.
--Does the punishment of this people appear to any rigorous and excessive? Let them consider that they are very incompetent judges of God's moral government; that they see but a few scattered fragments of the vast scheme of Providence ; that creatures themselves ignorant, weak and criminal, must be much disqualified to “ hold the balance and the rod;" that every transgression of the divine law merits death; that “ fools" only “ make a mock at sin." Let the whole earth tremble before Him“ who will by no means clear the guilty :" who has denounced." indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish against every soul of man that doth evil,” while to the humble and contrite in heart, he proclaims his name, “ The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth ; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin :'S “ visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them
* Psal. vii. 11-17.
Psal, ix, 15, 16.
Prov. y. 21-23.
Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7.
who hate him; but shewing mercy to thousands of them that love him and keep his commandments."*
-In the leader and commander of Israel behold, once more, a man exalted far above all temporary, all selfish concerns ; occupied only with the interests of truth and justice, the duties of his station, the prosperity of his charge the glory of Him who had conferred it upon him. In this last object his whole soul is absorbed. He walks already on air, and beholds the world under his feet ; but forgets not that he is yet in it, and that in every state, and at every period of existence, a rational being may promote, and ought to be studying how he may best promote the honour of his Creator, by administering justice, or extending mercy to his fellow creatures.-Consider him well ; and, in your sphere, with the means and ability you enjoy, go and do likewise—and God grant us all wisdom to know and do what is well pleasing in his sight.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak upto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When
ye be come over Jordan, into the land of Canaan, then ye shall appoint you cities, to be cities of refuge for you ; that the slayer may flee thither which killeth any person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgement. And of these cities which ye shall give, six cities shall ye have for retuge. Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of reluge. These sIX cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among thein; that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.
Human laws are generally the result of experience, not the provision of soresight. Occasion dictates the encouragement to be given, the restraint to be imposed, the punishment to be inflicted. The multiplication of new and extraordinary cases, must of course swell the statute book ; through change of circumstances some institutes must sink into disuse and oblivion, and others rise into existence and force. Hence the variety, the opposition, the contradiction of different codes of law, not only in different countries, but in the same country at different periods.
There are, at the same time, certain general and fixed principles of law applicable to every state of society; which, founded in eternal, unchangeable truth and justice, are in perpetual force, and of universal obligation, Divested of every thing arbitrary, local and temporary, they address themselves to the onderstanding and conscience of every man, and irresistibly carry conviction with them. The genius, character and progress of any people, a sagacious observer will be able to trace, with tolerable accuracy, in their
* Exod. xx. 5, 6.
legislation, in their institutions, political and religious; for those of a moral tendency never vary. It is easy to discern in the spirit of the laws, what is the spirit of the nation ; to discern whether liberty or despotism, moderation or tyranny is predominant.
But the constitution of the commonwealth of Israel possesses distinctive features. It was formed by Divine Wisdom long before it had a local residence wherein to act. The laws by which Canaan was to be governed, were enacted in the wilderness. Prescience made provision for cases which could not as yet have arisen. Republican equality was blended with absolute, unlimited theocracy; a liberty and a sovereignty established in perfect harmony, and yet both to their utmost extent. The Levitical part of the constitution was adapted to this state of things. The priesthood, in respect of property and possession, was reduced below the level of their brethren ; while by their office and employments, the homage paid and the provision made for them, they were raised above their fellows. They were appointed to minister at the altar of God; and it was his will, and it was reasonable, that they should live by it.
One of the last public services in which Moses was employed, is the settlement of this branch of the political economy—the establishment of religion, without which no state can long exist; and the appointment of a moderate, but certain and steady provision for its ministers.
Forty and eight cities, in all, with their suburbs, and an extent of territory around every one, not exceeding two thousand cubits, in all directions, were to be set apart for the tribe of Levi, and distributed by lot. As the lot was specially ordered by Divine Providence, the dispersion of this tribe over the whole land, there is good reason to believe, God in wisdom overruled favourably to the exercise of their sacred function. Of their other privileges and immunities, we are not now led to treat. The words we have read limit our attention to an institution, in many respects singular, and unexampled in the history of mankind-the appointment of six of the Levitical cities as places of refuge for the unintentional, and therefore less criminal manslayer. Respecting this institution, and its reason and design, the following particulars recommend themselves to our notice.
The provision here made refers to a case of singular importance to society; on which indeed the very being of society depends—the security of human life against violence. To take away the life of another is the most atrocious offence which man can commit against man. The laws of every well-regulated community have accordingly marked it as the object of just vengeance, saying, in the language of the supreme Legislator, “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” But into the commission of this offence, as of every other, circumstances of aggravation or alleviation may enter; and every wise legislator will take these into consideration ; adapting the degree of punishment to the degree of criminality, distinguishing the action, as connected with, or separated from the intention. To the wilful and deliberate murderer no place was to serve as a sanctuary; to him the altar itself was to afford no protection. But a man may deprive his neighbour of life without incurring the guilt of murder; and it must be imputed to him as a calamity, not a crime. To meet such a case, the provision in question was made; and a refuge was provided for both the citizen and the stranger who might "unawares,” without malice or intention, occasion the death of another.
This refuge, however, was not wholly unrestricted, but subject to a variety of regulations, all calculated powerfully to impress on the minds of the people, an awful sense of the value put on the life of man by the great Legislator : and to serve as a caution not only against deliberate violence, but even against carelessness and inattention, where the life of another was concerned. Blood
lies heavily, as it ought, on the head of him who sheddeth it, however innocently; and the consciousness of it will ever be felt as a severe punishment by a sensible heart, though no judge arise to avenge it. But punishment to a certain degree was inflicted on the manslayer, by the very statute which appointed the refuge; and to the uneasy reflections arising from having been the unwilling instrument of a man's death, were superadded alarming apprehensions and painful restraints.
The first regulation limited the number of these cities to six, for the whole commonwealth of Israel. Hence, an escape to a place of refuge must, in many instances, have been effected through much danger, exertion and law bour; and the unhappy fugitive must frequently have felt all the bitterness of death in his solicitude to flee from it. Thus, while the finger of mercy pointed to the strong hold of safety, the voice of justice exclaimed, " Flee for thy life, look not behind thee, lest thou perish; behold the avenger of blood is at thy heels."
But that the danger, and the anxiety resulting from it, might be diminished as far as the limited number of the cities would admit, it was determined by the lot that these should be dispersed at the most commodious distances, over the country; and it was expressly provided that three of them should be on each side the Jordan, in order to facilitate and secure escape at the seasons when that river overflowed its banks, and rendered a passage tedious, difficult or impracticable. In the same view, it has been affirmed, and seems probable, that the roads which led to these cities were formed and maintained at the public expense, and that their breadth was very considerable: that every obstruction was removed out of the way, bridges were thrown over interposing streams, and when roads happened to cross or separate, an index, inscribed with the word Refuge, pointed out the right course. And thus an institution humane in its design, was rendered more so, by the manner in which it was observed.
But again-the city was, in the first instance, to serve only as a 'temporary refuge, and afforded shelter only till inquiry was made into the fact, and judgement was solemnly given between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, upon evidence adduced. If criminal intention was proved, there was no remedy, blood demanded blood, the prisoner must be delivered up to the hands of justice. If otherwise, public protection was granted, and he was restored to his refuge. The ordinance having it in view not to prevent and suppress the truth, but to bring it openly and fully to light.
The innocence of the prosecuted party having been made clearly to appear, he was restored indeed to his refuge, but it became, at the same time, his prison. Exiled from his native possession, and from all that repdered it dear; doomed to live among strangers, to subsist on their bounty, perhaps to feel their unkindness or neglect, he must drag out a comfortless existence, to an unknown, uncertain period : or stir abroad under constant apprehension and hazard of his life. And confinement is still confinement, though in a place of safety, a city of refuge: and ignorance and uncertainty respecting the termination of our misery, are bitter ingredients in the cup of affliction. “ It may outlast life," sad thought! " or consume the best and most valuable portion of my days. Unhappy that I am, to have introduced mourning into my neighbour's family, and desolated my own. Though I feel not the pangs of remorse, my heart is torn with those of regret; and blood, though shed without a crime, is a burden too heavy for me to bear."
The last regulation on record respecting this subject, was a permission to the hapless manslayer to "return into the land of his possession," on the death of the high priest. The reason of this ordinance does not appear; but it contains a circumstance very affecting to the prisoner himself, and affecting
to all Israel. His release from confinement could be purchased only by death, the death of another; and that not of an ordinary citizen, but of the most dignified and respectable character in the republic. The weight of blood innocently shed, was at length to be removed; but how? Not by the demise of him who shed it, but of “ the high priest which should be in those days." And may we not suppose a refugee of sensibility looking forward to this event with the mixed emotions of hope and sorrow? The very cause of his enlargement makes it to partake of the nature of a punishment. He dare hardly wish for liberty, for it involved guilt deeper than what already lay upon his head ; deliberate devising the death of his neighbour, and taking pleasure in it.
Now, if guiltless homicide subjected the perpetrator of it to such accumulated danger, anxiety and distress, how atrocious in the sight of God must wilful murder be? And how sacred, in the sight of man, ought to be the life of his brother, and every thing relating to its preservation and comfort, his health, his peace, his reputation ? To attack him in any of these respects, is to level a blow at his head, or, where he feels more sensibly still, at his heart.
Let us review this last of the Mosaic institutions, and mark its reference to a clearer and more explicit dispensation : for it is too evidently “a shadow of good things to come.”
-The flying “ manslayer" is an affecting representation of what every man is by nature and by wicked works; an unhappy creature, who has offended against his brother, violated the laws of society, broken his own peace of mind, and trampled on the divine authority, not only accidentally and unintentionally, but deliberately, presumptuously. His conscience,“ like the troubled sea," cannot rest. What he feels is dreadful, what he fears is infinitely worse. With trembling Cain, he apprehends that every one who meeteth him will slay him ; his multiplied crimes cry out of the ground for vengeance upon his head—while eternal, inflexible justice, like " the avenger of blood,” pursues him to the death. To flee from, or endure the wrath of an offended God, is equally impossible. All nature is up in arms against him; he is become a terror to himself; the king of terrors aims his fatal dart, and hell follows after.
-The “refuge” provided by this statute for the unhappy man who had destroyed his brother, and troubled his own soul, prefigures the remedy prescribed by infinite wisdom for the recovery of a lost, perishing world—that dispensation of Divine Providence in which“ mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Fear not, guilty creature, there is hope concerning thee : thou shalt not die. The God whom thou hast offended, even he,“ hath found out a ransom ;' he hath “laid help on One who is mighty to save, even to the uttermost, them who come unto God through him." Cease from the anxious inquiry, “ Who shall ascend into heaven, to bring Christ down from above? Who shall descend into the deep, to bring up Christ again from the dead ?" “ The word is nigh thee,” and in this word the Lord “brings near his righteousness," and his salvation. The name of Jehovah is as a strong tower, whoso runneth into it is safe. Prophets, apostles, evangelists, with one accord, point to the sanctuary, saying, “ This is the way, walk ye in it.” “ Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope.” Here is " an highway"_" the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." The Saviour himself proclaims, “ Look to me, and be saved.” “ Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out."
-The very act of flying from “the avenger of blood," argued a consciousness of criminality, and an apprehension of danger; and the course directed to a city of refuge, indicated a knowledge of its appointment, and of the priv
• Vol. v.