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Cities Of Refuge

Read Joshua 20

This is exactly the type of scenario that the cities of refuge made provision for. If a man had slain another man accidently, he was to flee to one of the cities of refuge, for safety and protection.

Deuteronomy 19:4-6 And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past; As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live: Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.

In Numbers 35:11-12, we read, Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares (by mistake; unintentionally). And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.

From what we read in Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19 and Joshua 20, we can distinguish a number of characteristics of the cities of refuge:

  1. They were established by God before they were needed.

  2. They were available to all as well as accessible to all.

  3. Their gates were always open.

  4. They were widely advertised.

  5. All the cities of refuge were prominently located at high elevations so that they could be seen from great distances.

  6. Everyone was within a day's journey from at least one of them.

  7. "Whosoever" needed to flee to one of the cities was free to do so, whether or not he was an Israelite.

  8. The refugee was free to leave after the death of the high priest (Numbers 35:25).

(Cities Of Refuge, Ralph Matthews, from FOUNDATION MAGAZINE, May-June 2003)

The elders of that city took the slayer in and protected him until he was tried before the congregation. If they decided that the slayer was in fact guilty of murder, then he was to be put to death by the revenger of blood. See Numbers 35:15-21

Deuteronomy 19:12 says: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.

But if it was determined that the slayer did not deliberately set out to kill the person who had died, then the slayer would be allowed to remain in the city of refuge.

Numbers 35:25-28 And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood: Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession.

If at any time the slayer left his refuge before the death of the high priest and was killed in vengeance by the revenger of blood, then his blood would be upon his own head; the revenger of blood would not be held guilty in this case.

The cities of refuge picture Christ, and the slayer represents the lost, guilty sinner. The only problem is that the whole human race is lost, guilty, and condemned before God, and we all deserve death.

Romans 3:19, 23 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

John 3:18, 36 He that believeth on Him (Jesus) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; ... but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The avenger of blood is after us to slay us. And we must flee for refuge to Jesus Christ. We must plead for God's mercy (mercy is not getting what we deserve - in this case, death and punishment in hell forever), and seek for His grace (grace is God's unmerited favor; getting what we don't deserve - in this case, eternal life and pardon).

One of the cities of refuge the Lord had set apart was Kedesh, which means "sanctuary". Every one of us needs a sanctuary, a place to flee from the just, and holy wrath of God against our sins. This sanctuary can only be found in Christ. It is only at His throne of grace that we can receive mercy. (Hebrews 4:14-16) The reason why God can give us mercy and grace if we will turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith is simple: Jesus has already paid the penalty, bore God's wrath, and died in our place; if we will only accept His complete, once-for-all sacrifice for us, and receive Him as our Lord and Saviour.

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.

"The [slayer's] situation changed when the high priest died. When that happened, the refugee was free again. He was absolved from all blame. The death of the high priest was a form of substitution for the death that had been caused. The debt was paid in full when the high priest died. We see in this the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. He died in the sinner's place. "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21)." (Cities Of Refuge, Ralph Matthews, from FOUNDATION MAGAZINE, May-June 2003)

The slayer was safe in the city of refuge until the death of the anointed high priest, and then he was declared guiltless and allowed to return to his inheritance. (See Numbers 35:28) (Messiah and Christ both mean Anointed.) If we receive Jesus Christ, we are pardoned and forgiven by the blood He shed for our sins at Calvary. He died, was buried, and rose from the grave three days later in fulfillment of the scriptures. Now He is exalted in Heaven, at the right hand of God the Father. He is the only mediator between God and men, the believers' advocate, petitioning the Father on their behalf. He is the High Priest, pleading to the Father on the behalf of God's children. One thing worth mentioning is that Jesus will never die again; therefore, He will always be the eternal refuge for the children of God (Hebrews 7:25), and they will never come under God's wrath or condemnation again. (See Romans 5:8-9; and 1 Thessalonians 5:9)

The debt has been paid.
The High Priest is waiting.
The refuge is open for anyone to flee therein.
But one important question remains:
Is Jesus your refuge?
If not, the avenger of blood is still pursuing you!

Hebrews 6:18-20 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

June 28th, 2000
Jerry Bouey
Eagle's Wings Ministries

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