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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
Title:God's Justice Will Be Done!
Text:Deuteronomy 19:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Isaiah 25

Text: Deuteronomy 19:1-14



  1. In God’s land

  2. By God’s people

  3. To God’s glory


1. Psalm 9: 1, 4, 5, 6

2. Psalm 43:3-5

3. Psalm 55: 1, 3, 8, 10

4. Hymn 55:1-3

5. Psalm 3:2-3


Words to Listen For: undergo, gates, challenge, mountainside, screams


Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is a modern-day City of Refuge?

  2. Can you name 4 uses for the law of God?

  3. Why is human life valuable?

  4. Did Jesus contradict Moses?  Why or why not?

  5. How do we find God in the instructions about the Cities of Refuge?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of Jesus Christ,

Did you know that there are still cities of Refuge today?  Did you know that Canada has cities of Refuge?

I don’t mean theologically. I don’t mean metaphorically.  I mean literally.

Surrey, British Columbia is a designated City of Refuge.  This happened 4 years ago in October of 2016.  Surrey, British Columbia, is the first international City of Refuge in Canada.  Now, Surrey isn’t the same kind of City of Refuge found in our text, though there are similarities.

What it means that Surrey is as City of Refuge is that persecuted or fearful writers, artists, or campaigners from all over the world can find refuge in Surrey, where they can do their work.  The city of Surrey has promised to protect their freedom of speech so that they can continue their work without fear.

Surrey is one of 76 cities worldwide that have made this agreement.  76 cities worldwide that hold the title of “City of Refuge.”  While these cities do important work, it is very clear that what they are protecting is the human idea of justice.  These cities house people unlawfully persecuted, but in many cases they contravene the true nature of justice.  Ultimate justice cannot be boiled down into one word: freedom.  But rather, true justice is the protection of the good, and the punishment of the evil.

And in our text this morning, we see that


  1. In God’s land

  2. By God’s people

  3. To God’s glory

When we read the 10 commandments each Sunday morning, there are three different uses that we could focus on.

  • We could focus on how the law shows us our sin and reminds us that we are saved on in Jesus Christ.
  • We could also focus on how the law shows us how we are to be thankful for the salvation we have received.

These two are the regular uses of the law.

But in Deuteronomy, we find a primary focus on a different meaning for the law.

At the end of our series here this morning, let us remember the purpose of Deuteronomy.  Moses was preparing the Israelites for life in the Promised Land.

Moses reminded them of their disobedience that had caused them to take a 40 year journey in what should have taken 11 days.

Moses reminded them that it wasn’t truly about them.  It wasn’t about their strength of their godliness.  It was about God who shows mercy.

He reminded them of the two steps to victory: Listen and do.

He taught them about proper worship.  Who to worship.  How to worship.

And if we would continue to go through Deuteronomy, we could see a theme emerging throughout.  A pattern.  An outline of the book.

The outline of the Book of Deuteronomy follows the 10 commandments.

Here the 10 commandments are given to the new leaders (Joshua and the Elders) to tell them how to govern God’s people.  This is the third use of the law.  It serves as a pattern for how this world should be run.

And in Deuteronomy, it serves as the pattern for how the new leaders were to serve in the land.  Because Canaan was about to undergo a huge change.

When the LORD your God cuts off the nations whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses, you shall set apart three cities for yourselves in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.

This change was not just in who was living there, living in those cities and houses, but there was a huge change in how justice was to be done.  God’s law is a law like no other.  It isn’t just a combination of other laws of the time, but this law was a law given in smoke and fire on Mt. Sinai.  God Himself spoke these words.  God Himself inscribed the two stone tablets with His own handwriting.

And in doing so, God revealed His character.  God revealed His heart to His people.  Because though there are traditionally 3 uses of the law, I believe that there are actually 4 uses.

Guilt, thankfulness, for the government, and the fourth use: to reveal the heart of God.

The law tells us who God is, and what He deems to be important.

  • Worship is important to God.  Who we worship, and how we worship.
  • God’s name, His reputation, His glory in the earth is important.
  • God’s day, a day for worship and for rest is important.
  • Obedience to authority is important
  • Life, faithfulness, truthfulness, property, and the heart are all important to God.

God’s law tells us how He wants His land to look.


Here in Deuteronomy 19, we are focussing in on the sixth commandment.  We are focusing in on the  importance God has placed on human life.


We can see this already coming into play all the way back in Genesis 9.  After the flood waters subsided, God bless Noah and his sons, and promised the following:


    Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed,

    For God made man in His own image


We can see here that the value of a human life has to do, not with how valuable humans actually are, but rather, because we bear the image of God.  Even after the Fall into sin, we have not lost that image.  We have not lost the value given to us by God.

Life is so important, that whoever violates life will pay a steep cost - they will pay the cost of their own life.

This theme of the importance of life continues throughout scripture, where King David was not allowed to build the temple, because he was a man of war, with blood on his hands.  Through to Jesus revealing the heart behind the sixth commandment and saying that hating someone in your heart and refusing to be reconciled to your neighbour, while not murder of the hands, is, in fact, murder of the heart.

It carries through all the way to the last chapter of the Bible, where murderers are among those who are outside the gates of the heavenly city.

Life is valuable to God!

But, because sin is in the world, the Promised Land wasn’t going to look like the Heavenly City, where murderers were banished, and death itself died.  And so God instituted these Cities of Refuge throughout the land of Canaan to deal with the problem of death.

When the LORD your God cuts off the nations whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities ad in their houses, you shall set apart three cities for yourselves in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.

Time after time, we see the phrase: “the land the LORD your God is giving you.”  Time after time.  This is because it isn’t Israel’s land.  It is God’s land.  He uses it for the good of His people, but it is still God’s land.

God’s land, just like God’s law, was to show the nations who He is.  God’s land would be a land of justice.

You shall set apart three cities for yourselves

We can see later that there were to be a total of 6 cities, 3 on either side of the Jordan River.

And we could make a big deal out of these numbers.  3 could represent the triune nature of God, showing that God would be on both sides of the river for His people.  But what is important is not whether there were 6 cities total, but rather, that there weren’t 12.

There weren’t 12 Cities of Refuge for the 12 tribes, one city for each tribe.  This enforced the fact that it was God’s justice being done, all across the land, no matter if you were in Judah, Manasseh, or Zebulun.  It wasn’t about tribal justice, it was about God’s justice.

You shall measure the distances and divide into three parts the area of land that the LORD your God gives you as a possession, so that any manslayer can flee to them.

The cities weren’t just small towns, tucked away in the southwest corner of the country, but they were important, centralized cities.  We learn from writings made hundreds of years after the Book of Deuteronomy was written, that at every crossroads in the land, there was to be a sign, pointing in the direction of the nearest City of Refuge.  These cities were foundational to how God’s people were supposed to live in God’s land.

When God brings His people into the land, it is their responsibility to bring God’s justice into the land officially.  Not just to vaguely know about the concept, but actually enact the justice that they say they follow.  Using it properly to defend the oppressed, and to punish the oppressor.

We can see that these cities of Refuge, and those who enforced them, were to be a small picture of what God was like.  Ultimately, justice comes to us from God.

As human beings, our sense of justice is warped and twisted, if not completely absent altogether.  Justice looks a lot like revenge.  Just as God’s commandment of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” at the end of Deuteronomy 19 had been warped and twisted by the leaders in Jesus’ day.  More on that later.

But these cities were to be a picture of God’s justice.

We heard about this in our reading.

Isaiah 25:4 - For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat

In Isaiah, God Himself is compared to the city of refuge.  Ultimately, He is the one in whom we find our refuge and our strength.  Without God’s instruction, without God’s law, these cities of refuge would not have truly done any good.  But under God’s watchful eye, they would enact justice among God’s people.

So if the cities of Refuge were a picture of God, it is important for us to know more about them.

What exactly is a City of Refuge?  It’s not very much like its modern-day counterpart, where freedom of speech is first and foremost.  But instead, this is about the importance of human life.

You shall set three cities for that any manslayer can flee to them.

Let’s examine the process further.

This is the provision for the manslayer, who by fleeing there may save his life.  If anyone kills his neighbour unintentionally, without having hated him in the past,

and here follows an example of how that manslaughter might occur,

he may flee to one of these cities and live, lest the avenger of blood in hot anger pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is hlong, and strike him fatally, though the man did not deserve to die, since he had not hated his neighbour in the past.

Here, we get a description of two people involved here.  We get a description of the manslayer, and a description of the avenger of blood.  Both of these roles are important to understand in how the justice of God works.

So who exactly was the manslayer?

The manslayer, in this case, is someone who killed another person.  In our law system, we call this homicide.

Homicide can be further broken down into murder and manslaughter.  Murder is intentional, whereas manslaughter is accidental.

While the cities were instituted to protect those guilty of manslaughter, it is conceivable that murderers, those who intentionally and maliciously planned to kill someone, would flee to these cities also, there was a process of justice that would be done.

But this was the manslayer.  Someone guilty of manslaughter.  Unintentionally causing the death of someone else.

But the challenge in this case, the reason that someone guilty of manslaughter had to flee to a city was someone called the avenger of blood.  We see this in verse 6: Lest the avenger of blood in hot anger pursue the manslayer and overtake him.

Just who was this avenger of blood?

Some of you may remember the concept of a kinsman-redeemer in the Bible.  The most famous example was Boaz, who was the Kinsman-Redeemer for Ruth in the book that bears her name.  Ruth’s husband had died while she was still a young woman.  A young woman who wanted a husband and children.  A young woman who wanted to be able to support her mother-in-law.

And then she met a righteous and honorable man named Boaz who just so happened to be her kinsman redeemer.  They were married, and a few generations later, from their line, King David was born.

An avenger of blood was much the same as a kinsman fact, the titles could be different aspects of the same role in society.  The avenger of blood was a relative of the deceased person, wanting justice to be done, and the cost that God instituted in Genesis 9 to be paid.

It is interesting, because though we can turn back to Genesis 9 for an explanation, we can actually turn back even further, to the first murder in the Bible for an example of an avenger of blood.  In Genesis 4, Cain killed his brother Abel, out of jealousy, and in this story, God HImself is the avenger of blood.  First against Cain for the murder, and then, for Cain, promising vengeage against all those who would seek to kill him.

But God knew that the avenger of blood would not only strike out in cases of murder, but also in accidental death.  Emotions lead to revenge, but reason leads to justice.  And so, in cases of accidental death, whether an axehead fell off and struck someone in the head, or  however it happened, the cities of refuge would be there to ensure justice was done.

The avenger of blood could be seen as a redeemer of blood.  He would be the one to bring about the punishment for the sin.  He was to bring about the punishment of life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

This quotation from Deuteronomy 19:21 is well-known, mostly because of what Jesus Christ did with it in Matthew 5.  You probably know the passage.  Jesus is teaching up on the mountainside, and He is explaining the law.  He is explaining the heart of the law.  Our Lord had just finished teaching that murder began in the heart.  That it wasn’t just about the physical action, but it was about anger.  It was about hatred.

And then He explains, a few verses later, about these verses here.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”  But I say to you, “Do not resist the one who is evil.”

This could very easily be an entire sermon in itself, but let me at least try to give you a basic explanation here.  Because on first glance, it seems that Jesus is contradicting Moses here.  But instead, just as he did with the definition of murder, Jesus is explaining what the commandment really means.  He is revealing the heart of the commandment.

When Moses wrote these things in Deuteronomy, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what it was meant to do was to ensure restraint.  Restraining the anger of the avenger of blood.  The revenge of the kinsman redeemer.  You could easily see personal feeling getting in the way and justice flying out the window.

We see this with the overreaction of a very wicked man named Lamech in Genesis 4

    I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me

    If Cain’s revenge is seven-fold, then Lamech’s is seventy-seven-fold.

There are violent and wicked men like Lamech, who needed to hear this message.  Justice means that it is 1 for 1.  Not death for injury.  Not dismemberment for an insult.  This is what was meant by God’s teaching through Moses.  RESTRAINT.

But instead of ensuring restraint, throughout the years, God’s people misused this commandment to ensure revenge.

Each and every time that someone hurts me, I will hurt him back in exactly the same way.  If she insults me, I have every right to insult her back.  If he is cruel and vindictive, then I can do that too.  If an accident in the shop takes off one of my fingers, and it’s your fault, hold still so I can take one of your fingers.

God’s people had twisted God’s law.  They needed help.  And so Jesus taught the way of forgiveness.  When forgiveness happens, is justice still done?  Yes.  But not by us.  We as human beings have proved, time and again, throughout the centuries, that our idea of justice looks a lot more like revenge.

And so our God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”  Vengeance is in the hands of God.  The sins will be paid.  Justice will be done.  Ultimately, it is God who doles out justice.

That is why the cities of refuge were instituted. Because in those cities, there were elders who were to judge the case based on the testimony of witnesses.

These elders, like the elders in the wilderness, would be given the Holy Spirit to help them in their task.  If someone guilty of manslaughter fled to the city, and was found to be not guilty of murder, they would stay in that city, safe from the revenge-minded avenger of blood.  But if a murderer fled, on the case of 2 or 3 witnesses they would be found guilty, and handed over to the avenger.  There was to be no pity shown.

Justice would be done, to keep the land pure.  The innocent would be protected, and the guilty punished.

And though we no longer have a land to call our own, there is no land of Christians, this is not how our God wants us to live.  Gone are the days of capital punishment from the hands of priests and avengers of blood.  God’s people are those in His church.  The discipline is not legal and civil punishment, but rather church discipline.

And again, just as in the case of the elders of the city, human wisdom is not enough.  Each and every one of the office-bearers - elders, deacons, pastor...we all need a special measure of the Holy Spirit so that we show wisdom in our judgements.  It’s not about revenge.  It’s not about taking our lump of flesh, but rather, church discipline is about showing the justice and the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.  Those who are unrepentant in their sins see the justice of God.  The reminder that they do not have the freedom to live their lives any way they want simply because they bear the label “Christain.”  And those who are truly sorry for their sins, those who repent for them, and work hard on themselves, making amends to others they hurt...these members are shown mercy.

NOT because their sins weren’t offensive.

NOT because justice loses out to mercy.  Mercy does not triumph over justice, nor does justice triumph over mercy.  In our God, we see both in their ultimate perfection.  It is to His glory that justice and mercy happen in sync with each other.  Each one displayed perfectly.

You see...the whole concept of the City of Refuge SCREAMS OUT to us who God is.  It is a shame that more Christians don’t know about the cities of refuge.

The idea of someone running towards justice, fleeing for protecting and preservation in trouble...this is our God!  He is the ultimate protection for the weak and burdened.  He is the answer when we have sinned unintentionally, going against His laws, even though our heart is devoted to Him.  We heard this in our call to worship this morning, didn’t we?

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;

    the righteous man runs into it and is safe.

It is in that tower, or on that mountain, as Isaiah says, where He will swallow up death forever.  It is our God who will wipe away all our tears.  God will take away His people’s disgrace.

This is the promise of our God for the innocent.  Those who accidentally go against His laws.

But what about those of us who know what the right thing is...and still don’t do it?  Those of us who see sin looming on the horizon, and, instead of running away from it, instead of fleeing to the Lord in prayer, instead of reaching out to our accountability partners, instead of doing those things, what happens when we run into sin?  What happens when we aren’t guilty of unintentional sins only, but intentional sins too?  What then?

Again, it is answered in this chapter.  What happens to us is that we are met with by the Redeemer of Blood.  But in this case, He doesn’t run after us with revenge on His mind.  He doesn’t run after us, trying to make us pay.  But instead, our Redeemer chases us down with a message of mercy.  A message of salvation.  He opens our eyes to the reality, not only of our sin, but the reality of His grace and forgiveness.  Because our Redeemer of blood isn’t just a random family member.  But instead, He is our older brother in the faith.  He is our Saviour, and co-heir with us of all the promises of God!

Our Redeemer of Blood enacts justice, not by shedding our blood, but by shedding His own.  Our Saviour Jesus Christ redeemed us BY His own blood, dying on the cross.  Accomplishing the greatest act of justice and mercy ever to happen.  He died to forgive ALL the sins of His people.

Not only the so-called little sins. Not only the sins we commit by mistake.  But the big sins.  The big sins of blasphemy.  The big sins of adultery and lust.  Holding hatred in our hearts for those we should love.  Being cruel and vindictive to our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

That is the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The beauty and majesty and glory of who our God is.  Already shown here in Deuteronomy 19 in the City of Refuge, but shown so much more clearly in the cross of Christ.

All of this was won for you.  God fully knowing who you are.  Exactly how messy and broken and sinful your life is.  And He died for you anyways.  He died for you, knowing just how much you needed Him to.  He died to save you, and to show you who He is.

And just like Christ’s death on the cross, the Cities of Refuge were instituted to save God’s people, and to show them who He is.

They were designed to show us that God is sovereign - that, ultimately, He is the one to whom we must flee for refuge.  Throughout the years, God deals with His people in different ways.  Surrey isn’t a Deuteronomic City of Refuge.  Those cities don’t exist anymore.  But the truth behind them?

Our God shows perfect justice.  Each and every wrong will be righted.  Whether on the cross, or when He returns.

Our God shows perfect mercy.  Each and every one of us needs that mercy and that grace to live in His presence.

And our God shows perfect love.  Whoever calls upon His name will be saved.  Whoever flees to Him be will protected.  And even those among God’s people who run in the opposite direction, in shame or fear for their sins will be found and brought in once again by God.  Our stong abode.  Our hope and consolation.  Our shield from foes, our balm for woes, our great and sure salvation.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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