Sacred Refuge

When the immigration agent came to deport Liliana, her 7-year-old son William was confused and furious. "My mama is not a bad mama; she is a good mama," he said. "Why are you taking her away?" Because Liliana was nursing 2-month-old Paulito when he arrived, the immigration agent took pity on her and gave her a week to return to Mexico and leave her husband and three children (all U.S. citizens) behind. In hopes of staying with her family, she called her church and asked for sanctuary.


When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before standing trial before the assembly.

— Numbers 35:10b-12



Human beings have always had a tendency to demonize. In biblical times, when someone died by another's action, even if it was unintentional or unavoidable, the typical reaction was a blood feud. The family of the deceased treated the one responsible for the death as a murderer and sought vengeance—a life for a life. But in the book of Numbers, we find a creative strategy for counteracting this human tendency.

Those who claimed to have killed another by accident could be protected until they could receive a fair hearing. The people of God created sacred places of refuge, or sanctuary, in which the fugitive could find safety and the assurance of justice.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2007
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