I often hear people talk about the Old Testament revealing a God of judgment and the New Testament a God of mercy. But this just isn't true. God has not changed. Take, for example, what the Lord said to Joshua in the first four verses of Joshua 20 (NLT):
Now tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed Moses. Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed. Upon reaching one of these cities, the one who caused the death will appear before the elders at the city gate and present his case. They must allow him to enter the city and give him a place to live among them.
You can read more in Numbers 35:6-34 about the “cities of refuge” that God established through Moses. The cities of refuge were an example of God’s kindness and mercy. In a society that demanded a life for a life, it was a way for a person who unintentionally killed someone to have a chance to be heard before having to forfeit his or her life. (Today in the U.S. we would term this “involuntary manslaughter”.) It made a distinction between an intentional murder and an unintentional taking of a life.
The cities of refuge demonstrate how thoughtfully God set up Israel’s society—and how faithfully Joshua made sure it was carried out. So soon after the people of Israel entered the promised land, the cities of refuge provided a place for the “innocent until proven guilty.” Our Almighty Father considered every detail as he established his nation. He understood human hearts and made provision to protect them from each other’s failings. He established the law and set up systems of order for their benefit—and ours. He is good.
If you are one of the very rare people who must face a person who killed someone you love, it may be profoundly applicable. Did that person intend to kill your loved one, or was it an accident? Evidently, God makes a distinction about that, so we should too.
If you are not facing such a gut-wrenching situation, it can also give us perspective on less drastic consequences than the loss of life. Did the one that hurt you intend to do so, or was the hurt unintentional? Either way, we are required to forgive them according to Jesus’ standards (Matthew 18:15-35), but it might help us to know how to deal with a person if we better understand their motives.
Regardless of the application, passages like these help us to see God's nature of showing kindness and mercy way beyond what we deserve. He has not changed, for which I'm truly thankful!