THE AVENGER OF BLOOD, AND THE CITIES OF REFUGE
Joshua xx: 1, to xxi: 45.
HERE was among the Israelites one custom which seems so
strange, and so different from our ways, that it will
be interesting to hear about it. It was their rule with
regard to any man who by accident killed another man.
With us, whenever a man has been killed, the man who
killed him, if he can be found, is taken by an officer
before the judge, and he is tried. If he killed the man
by accident, not wishing to do harm, he is set free. If
he meant to kill him he is punished; he may be
sentenced to die for the other man's death; and when he
is put to death it is by the officer of the law.
But in the lands of the east, where the Israelites
lived, it was very different. There, when a man was
killed, his nearest relative
 always took it upon himself to kill the man who had
killed him; and he undertook to kill this man without
trial, without a judge, and by his own hand, whether
the man deserved to die, or did not deserve it. Two men
might be working in the forest together, and one man's
axe might fly from his hand and kill the other; or one
man hunting might kill another hunter by mistake. No
matter whether the man was guilty or innocent, the
nearest relative of the one who had lost his life must
find the man who had killed him, and kill him in
return, wherever he was. If he could not find him,
sometimes he would kill any member of his family whom
he could find. This man was called "the avenger of
blood," because he took vengeance for the blood of his
relative, whether the one whom he slew deserved to die
or not. When Moses gave laws to the children of Israel
he found this custom of having an "avenger of blood"
rooted so deeply in the habits of the people, that it
could not be broken up. In fact, it still remains, even
to this day, among the village people in the land where
the Israelites lived.
But Moses gave a law which was to take the place of the
old custom, and to teach the people greater justice in
their dealings with each other. And when they came into
the land of Canaan, Joshua carried out the plan which
Moses had commanded.
Joshua chose in the land six cities, three on one side
of the river Jordan, and three on the other side. All
of these were well-known places and easy to find. Most
of them were on mountains, and could be seen far away.
They were so chosen that from almost any part of the
land a man could reach one of these cities in a day, or
at the most in two days. These cities were called
"Cities of Refuge," because in them a man who had
killed another by mistake could find refuge from the
avenger of blood.
When a man killed another by accident, wherever he was,
he ran as quickly as possible to the nearest of these
cities of refuge. The avenger of blood followed him,
and might perhaps overtake him and kill him before he
reached the city. But almost always the man, having some
start before his enemy, would get to the city of refuge
There the elders of the city looked into the case. They
learned all the facts; and if the man was really
guilty, and deserved to die, they gave him up to be
killed by the avenger. But if he was
inno-  cent, and did not mean to kill the man who was dead, they
forbade the avenger to touch him, and kept him in
A line was drawn around the city, at a distance from
the wall, within which line the avenger could not come
to do the man harm; and within this line were fields,
where the man could work and raise crops, so that he
could have food.
And there at the city of refuge the innocent man who
had killed another without meaning to kill, lived until
the high-priest died. After the high-priest died, and
another high-priest took his place, the man could go
back to his own home and live in peace.
THE ARK WITH THE GOLDEN CHERUBIM
These were the cities of refuge in the land of Israel:
On the north, Kedesh in the tribe of Naphtali; in the
center, Shechem, at the foot of Mount Gerizim, in the
tribe of Ephraim; and on the south, Hebron, Caleb's
city, in the tribe of Judah. These were among the
mountains, on the west of the river Jordan. On the east
of the river Jordan, the cities were Golan of Bashan in
Manasseh, Ramoth of Gilead, in the tribe of Gad, and
Bezer in the highlands of the tribe of Reuben.
This law taught the Israelites to be patient, and to
control themselves, to protect the innocent, and to
seek for justice, and not yield to sudden anger.
Among the tribes there was one which had no land given
to it in one place. This was the tribe of Levi, to
which Moses and Aaron belonged. The men of this tribe
were priests, who offered the
 sacrifices, and Levites, who cared for the Tabernacle
and its worship. Moses and Joshua did not think it well
to have all the Levites living in one part of the
country, so he gave them cities, and in some places the
fields around the cities, in many parts of the land.
From these places they went up to the Tabernacle to
serve, each for a certain part of the year; and the
rest of the year stayed in their homes and cared for
When the war was over, and the land was divided, Joshua
fixed the Tabernacle at a place called Shiloh, not far
from the center of the land, so that from all the
tribes the people could come up at least once a year
for worship. They were told to come from their homes
three times in each year, and to worship the Lord at
These three times were for the feast of the Passover in
the spring, when the lamb was killed, and roasted, and
eaten with unleavened bread, of which we read in Story
28; the feast of the Tabernacles
in the fall, when for a week they slept out of doors in
huts made of twigs and boughs, to keep in mind their
life in the wilderness; and the feast of Pentecost,
fifty days after the Passover, when they laid on the
altar the first ripe fruits from the fields. All these
three great feasts were kept at the place of the altar
and the Tabernacle.
And at Shiloh, before the Tabernacle, they placed the
altar, on which the offerings were laid twice every
day. (See Stories 27 and
God had kept his promise, and had brought the
Israelites into a land which was their own, and had
given them rest from all their enemies.