The Bible gives no direct answer, but a little investigation reveals that Hebron, the city in which the killing took place, was a city of refuge. A city of refuge was a place which afforded shelter to one who had accidentally committed manslaughter. The law was quite specific, and no part of the land was far away from a city of refuge. If the killing had been committed accidentally then the killer fled to one of the six cities of refuge which, when reached, gave him shelter and ensured that a fair trial was held.
If, on the way, he was over-taken by the relatives of the dead, he could be killed by them, but once inside the city a fair trial was guaranteed. If at the hearing, he was found guilty of wilful murder, he was delivered to death. But if it was proven that he had slain a fellow creature by accident or in self-defence, actual or constructive, he was granted asylum in that city. If he left the city before the death of the High Priest, he did so at his own risk. Upon the death of the High Priest he was at liberty to return to his home and enjoy the protection of the authorities. He was free from accusation.
So we can clearly see why Joab had to bring Abner outside the city. He knew the law and recognised that as long as Abner stayed in Hebron he was safe, but step outside and he was at severe risk. What a little Bible study reveals!!
There is of course a big lesson for us here.
We too need to flee from the avenger. We too need access to a city of refuge and speed is of the essence. If we delay, we also will fall prey to that which will take our life. On the death of our High Priest we were granted freedom from the oppressor.
So this is where Bible study brings us. Not the boring, dry as dust, time-wasting exercise that at first we may have thought, but an exciting time with the Bible in our hand. There is a bonus too. While we are reading the Bible we are, almost unseen, developing faith.
So where do we go from here?
Rather that just go blindly into a Bible exercise, why not choose a subject which is perhaps tolerably well-known to you, and then give some serious thought to it. In my younger days this was called `dressing the skeleton’. Not difficult to see why, is it? You have a basic knowledge of the event and now the purpose is to put some flesh on it. Let us try this with:
The parable of the prodigal son
The first thing to do is read the relevant Scripture, in this case Luke 15:11-32. Do this four or five times, perhaps over a period of several days. When you are satisfied that you have a fairly good grasp of the parable, get into the story with a little imagination.
Every word that you have read is vital to the parable.
It was the younger son who was prepared to forsake his home, and he demanded that his share of whatever he may inherit, be given to him then. Notice he says “Give me.” This speaks not only of the brashness of youth, but of one who is confident that he can make it in the world by himself and without assistance from father!
As soon as the liquid cash was in his hand, he gathers all his possessions and went as far away as he could from the family home. Riotous living may be many things, but the younger son soon found out that this way of life and riches cannot co-exist. Poverty is bad enough, but poverty after riches is bad news! In the land that promised so much he has to resort to becoming a pig feeder, and such was the depth of his plight that he ate food intended for the trough.
In his direst hour he “comes to himself’ implying previously he had been beside himself. He resolves to go home and confess that the world which seemed so full of glitter, was in fact an illusion, and that he would be better off as a servant at home than a pig feeder in a land of broken promises. His speech is well rehearsed and he sets off on his journey. His father is waiting for him, hears his confession, shows him compassion, kisses him and give him gifts.
The older brother busy in the field asks the cause of celebration and upon being told that his younger brother had returned home was anything but pleased. So great was his annoyance that, despite his father’s plea, he refuses to come into the party and stays outside sulking.
End of parable.
What are we taught?
The younger son perhaps speaks of the Gentiles and the elder the Jews. There can be nothing as far away from God as a pigsty. But that is where we are – smelly, filthy and desperate. Beside ourselves in fact.
If the father loved the boy as much as we think he might, then why did he not go to the pigsty and fetch him home? Because, God cannot help us unless we ask, and that is what we are being taught. Oh, but ask, and God’s compassion is immediately seen. The younger son had said “Give me”, but now he says “Make me”. This is the material with which God can work.
As you read, did you notice the gifts that were given and the order in which they came?
Firstly the robe. Not the one he left behind, no he took everything that he had when he left. Not one of his brother’s. It was the best robe. This surely speaks to us of the best covering, and this must be Jesus. Here is our refuge. We have no righteousness of our own. We are covered with filthy rags having just come from the pigsty, but we are given the best.
Next the ring, which speaks of authority. In the Kingdom which will be occupied by those who wear the robe, authority will be given by the Lord himself. More will be given them – a place upon which to walk, which is why shoes were given to the returning son. Correct order you see. Robe, ring and shoes.
The first born son is still unwilling to share the goodness of his God with Gentiles, and so he still remains outside. Notice this. The father said to the older son in verse 32 “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead and is alive again; and was lost and is found.” Lost, yes … but dead? This is the principle. When we are estranged from God, we are dead. Living dead. Procrastination is not only a thief of time, it is a thief of opportunity also. Get to the safety of the Father’s place without delay.
Did you notice that the elder brother, passing judgement upon the one who returned said that the money had been spent, not on riotous living, but with harlots. There is a bit of all of us there. Given information which we may be used to show someone either in a good or a bad light, we almost always elect to go down the road of criticism.
And one more point.
People come to God for all sorts of reasons. If the prodigal had not been hungry he would not have returned. The wonder is that the father did not question his motives, but received him in love.
So there we are. There is a very great deal more in this parable that we have considered but if it has, in some small way, whetted your appetite to open your Bible and read it with care, then our ambition has been realised.
Bible study, is not dull, it is great.