Deuteronomy 19:4-5    This is the rule concerning the man who kills another and flees there to save his life – one who kills his neighbour unintentionally, without malice aforethought.  For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbour to cut wood, and as he swings his axe to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbour and kill him.  That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life.

This chapter in the Torah (Law) makes clear the high value that God, the Creator, places on human life.  Its teaching is not surprising, because at the very beginning of the Torah we are told that we are made in the ’image and likeness’ of God himself (Genesis 1:26-27)!

So serious was the crime of deliberately taking the life of another human being that the offender himself was to be put to death.  The exception, of course, was if the offence was ‘accidental’.  All this differentiation has come into law in Western countries by the distinction that is made between ‘murder’ and ‘manslaughter’.  

Nevertheless, it is important in applying God’s gracious provision of the ‘Cities of Refuge’, that we don’t lose sight of the fundamental truth of the very high value God places on every human life.  Sadly, we are already seeing the blatant disregard for God’s law in our own culture today in the way we are viewing abortion and euthanasia, and it is frightening to think where this trend will lead us as we become more and more ‘comfortable’ with the disposal of life that does not fit in with our plans.

But the other thing we need to pay attention to is the responsibility that each one of us has to do all we can to avoid the possibility of ‘accidents’.  Did the man in Deuteronomy 19 do all he could to make sure the head of his axe was secure?  How careful are we to make sure we are fit to drive a motor vehicle?  This is the first thing that comes to my mind as someone who many years ago went to sleep while driving, and if it wasn’t for God’s gracious provision could have wiped out my whole family as well as other innocent road users!  I also write this in the light of a recent avoidable bus accident that took the lives of many wedding guests.  There are, of course, fatal accidents that cannot be attributed to negligence, but just thinking about the ‘axe-ident’ in today’s passage will make me more aware of my responsibility for the safety of others, and more diligent in every aspect of my daily activities.  When we have the responsibility to teach young people to drive, are we instilling in them the reality that a car is a machine that can kill?
– Bruce Christian