Justin Ross Harris & Israel’s Cities of Refuge

Image Credit: people.com
Image Credit:
people.com

Everyone is talking about Justin Ross Harris, who left his twenty-two month old son, Cooper, in his hot SUV for seven hours, while working his job at Home Depot. This horrible incident has been all over the news media, and a couple of days ago, I watched his probable cause hearing online. By the end of that day, Mr. Harris’ motion to be released on bond was denied, so he must remain in jail until his trial.

In the aftermath of this terrible occurrence, one thing is certain; everyone has an opinion about it. Did Ross Harris deliberately murder his only son, or was it really a dreadful accident, like he says? As I watched the court proceedings the other day, I was struck by a sad thought…

Suppose this really was an accident? Haven’t you ever gotten in your car, planning to go to one destination, and then, while you’re on your way, you suddenly realize that you’ve driven somewhere else, almost as though you were on auto-pilot? Haven’t you ever gone into a room with a specific task in mind, only to get there and realize that you’ve forgotten what you had gone in there for? 

I realize that a child was involved in this incident that turned very deadly, but the fact is that each one of us are human beings, with finite minds, and we do sometimes forget very important people and things. Several years ago, I remember promising to pick up an elderly woman for bible study at the church we attended together. On the evening of the bible study, I arrived around fifteen minutes early, because I am a very punctual person. After arriving so early, I spent the next several minutes chatting with other friends before class started. At one point, I remember looking at one of my friends, asking, “Where’s Miss Betty? She’s usually here by now.” 

My friend gave me an incredulous look, then stated, “I was going to ask you where she is. Weren’t you supposed to pick her up tonight?” I was totally embarrassed, because as soon as she said that, I remembered telling Miss Betty that I would pick her up. How embarrassing it was, as I quickly exited and went to get Miss Betty and bring her to the bible study. 

That’s why I don’t think it is totally implausible that a father or mother could go to work and forget his/her child is in the back seat, especially if the child falls asleep. Before we pass judgment on this father, let’s remember that he is every bit as human as we are, and it is truly possible that he did indeed, forget his son was in the backseat of his SUV. 

And if he truly did forget his child, can you imagine how traumatic it would be to come to the realization that your forgetfulness killed your only son? Imagine how horrific that must be for him. If he truly did forget his son, this young man (who looks like a boy to me), must find a way to live with the knowledge that his stupid error killed his beloved son. If it was indeed an accident, he will have to live with all of the ramifications caused by his memory lapse… Think of it, while his wife and family are grieving the loss of this adorable little boy, Ross Harris must be carrying a crushing load of guilt, knowing that his son would be alive if only

If only…

  • he had taken Cooper to daycare…
  • he had remembered Cooper was there, in his car seat, in the SUV, before he got out…
  • he had thought about his little boy, instead of allowing his mind to wander to sexual fantasies with six different women (none of whom were his wife), and wasting precious minutes, (which could have saved his son’s life) by sending sexual messages to these women (one of whom was an underage, sixteen year old girl)…
  • he had remembered his son before he went to lunch with his friends…
  • he had looked in the backseat of the SUV, when he dropped the light bulbs off in the front seat of his car, after lunch…

The list of “if only’s” goes on and on, but sadly, they mean nothing, for Cooper Harris is gone now.

Meanwhile, Ross Harris now finds himself in a battle for his freedom, and possibly even for his life, since Georgia is one of the states, which still enforces the death penalty. While watching Mr. Harris’ defense attorney questioning Detective Phil Stoddard (who seemed to have convicted Justin Ross Harris already, before the investigation and a trial have been completed) that I began to think about how a situation like this would have been handled in biblical times…

Image Credit: Bob Enyart Live
Image Credit:
Bob Enyart Live

During biblical times, the people of Israel had six cities that were designated to be Cities of Refuge

These cities are for the protection of Israelites, foreigners living among you, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety. ~ Numbers 35:15  NLT ~

Were these cities of refuge available to everyone? As you can see from Numbers 35:15these cities of refuge were available to foreigners and traveling merchants, as well as the Israelites, who found themselves in a situation much like the one Ross Harris is now involved in. Also, because the Lord is a merciful and just God, He made sure that the cities of refuge were available to all, no matter where they lived in Israel…

“If the distance to the nearest city of refuge is too far, an enraged avenger might be able to chase down and kill the person who caused the death. Then the slayer would die unfairly, since he had never shown hostility toward the person who died. That is why I am commanding you to set aside three cities of refuge. ~ Deuteronomy 19:6-7  NLT ~

Now, this place of refuge was not a place for someone to stay to escape justice. Nor was it a prison. The cities of refuge were there so that the person who accidentally killed someone could live without fear of reprisal before being tried by the community.

These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community. ~ Numbers 35:12  NLT ~

God did not command these cities of refuge be created to help the slayer escape justice. He called for these cities of refuge to be built in order to ensure that justice was served. Indeed, the Lord didn’t appoint only three cities of refuge, but six, so there would be enough to make them equally accessible for people to escape to.

13 Designate six cities of refuge for yourselves, 14 three on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west in the land of Canaan. 15 These cities are for the protection of Israelites, foreigners living among you, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety. ~ Numbers 35:13-15  NLT ~

To be clear about this, murderers would not be allowed to find haven in any of the cities of refuge. These cities were only to protect those who accidentally killed someone, and they, like anyone else accused of a crime would face a trial by their community.

Those who were found guilty of murder were sentenced to die by the hand of their victim’s nearest relative. However, if the person accidentally kills someone, the community must protect the slayer (the one who accidentally kills someone) from the victim’s avenger (the closest relative of the victim), and escort him/her to the city of refuge, where the person must remain until the death of the high priest. (Numbers 35:24-25  NLT)

As long as the slayer remains within the city of refuge, until the high priest dies, thus ending his sentence, he will live in safety, protected from the victim’s avenger. However, if the slayer is discovered by the victim’s avenger outside of the city of refuge before the high priest dies, and the avenger kills him/her, this will not be counted as a crime by the avenger…

26 “But if the slayer ever leaves the limits of the city of refuge, 27 and the avenger finds him outside the city and kills him, it will not be considered murder. 28 The slayer should have stayed inside the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest, the slayer may return to his own property. 29 These are legal requirements for you to observe from generation to generation, wherever you may live.  ~ Numbers 35:26-29  NLT ~

Now, let’s go back and examine the scriptures in Numbers 35 again, and see how they explain the difference in an accidental killing and murder. As we study this, let’s keep in mind what we know about the death of Justin Ross Harris’ son, Cooper Harris… The following scriptures describe exactly what a murder is…

16-21 If someone picks up an instrument—iron, stone, wood,whatever—and batters somebody else so badly that the victim dies, or if he otherwise kills with intent (fatally pushes with hatred or throws an object from some hidden place that kills its target), the perpetrator is guilty of murder. His punishment is death in return, and someone shall be assigned to kill him. The one to carry out this death penalty is called the “blood avenger.” Whenever the avenger has a chance to kill the murderer, he should do so. ~ Numbers 35:16-21  VOICE ~

As you can see from the description, it is murder if someone picks up an instrument and batters someone with it so badly, that the person dies. Further, it is also murder if someone intentionally kills someone either by using a weapon, or by some other means. As we follow the case against Justin Ross Harris in the coming months, let’s keep this biblical description in mind when determining whether the man murdered his son, or whether the child’s tragic death was an accident.

22-24 Sometimes it happens, though, that a person pushes his friend or acquaintance, throws an object, or happens to drop a heavy stone on someone else without any intention of hurting (much less killing) the person, but the other person happens to die from it. The guilty person should be able to take refuge in one of the six designated cities, safe from the one who would avenge the death he caused. Then people from among the greater community shall judge whether it was indeed an accident or not. ~ Numbers 35:22-24  VOICE ~

Image Credit: couriermail.com
Image Credit:
couriermail.com

In the coming weeks and months, I imagine we’re going to hear many different things about Justin Ross Harris, as he is tried for murder in both the courtroom, and in the news. Many people have already formed an opinion regarding his guilt or innocence, without even knowing all of the facts. However, I would encourage all believers to pray especially for Justin Ross Harris, and his wife, Leanne Harris, for if this was an accident as Mr. Harris claims that it is, I can’t even begin to fathom the pain he and his wife must be experiencing. On the other hand, if it was murder, let’s pray that justice is served, and that the Lord would comfort Leanne Harris, who loved and trusted her husband with their child. Let’s also pray for their marriage, which has very likely suffered from this tragedy.

After reading the scriptures that tell how to know the difference between murder and accidental death, we understand how to determine the difference between the two. However, if we are members of God’s jury, in the case of Justin Ross Harris, how can we judge whether he is guilty of murdering his son, or if the death was accidental? Let’s turn to Numbers 35 once again to help us…

“All murderers must be put to death, but only if evidence is presented by more than one witness. No one may be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. ~ Numbers 35:30  NLT ~

As you can see, to convict a person of murder, there must be evidence presented by more than one witness. If only one witness testifies against the accused, then there is not enough evidence to convict him/her.

There is one more noteworthy thing about this chapter on the Cities of Refuge that I would like to mention. If the person accused of murder was found guilty, he/she would be sentenced to death by the victim’s avenger. However, if the death is found to be accidental, the person does not get off scot-free. He/She must remain within the city of refuge until the high priest dies.

You see, God values the life of mankind, most certainly, more than humans do. Therefore, if someone is killed by the hand of another, his/her death must be paid for by the one who killed him/her. Of course, if the person was murdered, his/her killer must be killed to pay for his/her death.

However, if a person was accidentally killed by the hand of another, that person’s death must also be atoned for by his/her killer. Therefore, though the killer does not deserve to die for the accidental death caused by him/her, he/she must still pay for the death with his/her own life. Hence, the killer must spend his life living within the confines of the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, whereupon he/she will then be free to return to his/her own land to live in freedom once again.

I think this consequence for causing the accidental death of someone is fair. By sentencing the accidental killer to live in one of the cities of refuge, several clear messages are sent to everyone involved…

    • First and foremost, the sentence acknowledges the value of the life that was lost, and though his/her death was accidental, it must still be atoned for.
    • This sentence makes it clear that the death was unintentional and accidental, therefore, the killer does not deserve to die for it.
    • Only God, (who knew when and how the victim would die), knows when the high priest will die, thus ending the killer’s sentence.

It seems that God’s plan for determining whether a death is  the result of murder or accidental is the best plan. Although most of us will never sit on the jury in Justin Ross Harris’ trial, there is still a great probability that we will all form our own opinions about whether little Cooper Harris died an accidental death, or whether he was the victim of his father’s heinous murder plot. Therefore, I encourage all of us to use God’s way of determining whether Cooper’s death was an accident or murder. What a shame we don’t have cities of refuge here in the United States!

Meanwhile, please join me in praying for Cooper Harris’ family…

© 2014
Cheryl A. Showers

Advertisements

Fan The Flames - Add Your Flaming Words And Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s