The Biblical Context for Sanctuary Cities

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Picture of the Scales of Justice

You may have heard of “sanctuary cities”. Some American cities have designated themselves as “sanctuary cities” and even states have designated themselves as “sanctuary states” where people who enter our country illegally can go and not risk being sent back to their home country by Federal Authorities, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Border Patrol.

So where did the concept of “sanctuary cities” originate? Some say the concept is in the Bible. Yes, the concept originated in the Bible. And today’s Bible reading* gives us the Biblical context for the creation of “sanctuary cities”.

Sanctuary cities have a basis in the Bible.
Unfortunately, the concept has been perverted.


Civics 101: The United States is a nation of laws. The reason our Founders set up a Democratic Republic instead of a pure Democracy was to give us a structure of law to protect individuals from the majority vote.

If someone has a large bank account and the majority of people in a city want it, under a pure Democracy, the people could vote and confiscate the rich person’s money and distribute it to all of the people. But under our Democratic Republic, the law as spelled out in the Constitution places limits on what the government can and cannot do. (An excellent discussion of the different kinds of government can be found here.)

As a practical example, our country has seen some atrocities in racial injustice. In years past, African Americans have been victims of lynch mobs who would kill a man for doing something as innocuous as merely speaking to a white woman. A “majority” of people would take the law into their own hands and hang a man whom they thought was guilty of a crime. But what these lynch mobs were doing was a violation of our nation’s Constitution which allows everyone “due process” with the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, it took too long for the law to be applied and lots of innocent black men were unjustly killed.

The Biblical reason for creating “sanctuary cities” was not to provide a place for lawbreakers to go to be immune from prosecution. Instead, the Biblical reason sanctuary cities were created was to provide a place for those accused of crimes to flee until they could be justly tried. If a lynch mob came looking for a person whom they thought was guilty of a crime, the accused could flee to a sanctuary city, knowing that they could have a temporary safe haven. If they were convicted of the crime, they would still have to face the consequences of the crime. But if they were found innocent, they wouldn’t be prosecuted for the crime.

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
– Numbers 33
– Numbers 34
– Numbers 35
– Numbers 36

This devotional was originally published on March 6, 2021.

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