A Place of Refuge.
“These cities are for the protection of Israelites, resident foreigners, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety.“ – Numbers 35:15 NLT
The cities of refuge. God instructed Moses to set aside six different cities, spread throughout the land of Canaan, and designate them as cities of refuge. Occupied by Levites, these cities were strategically placed and easily accessible from all parts of the land. Their purpose was to provide a safe-haven to anyone who had accidently committed murder. In other words, if an Israelite inadvertently and unintentionally caused the death of a fellow Israelite, he could flee to one of these cities and seek refuge from the avenger. It was up to the relatives of a murdered individual to seek vengeance. This “blood avenger” (Numbers 35:19) was not just free to kill the murdered, he was obligated to do so (Numbers 35:19, 21). It was his duty. He was called the “avenger of blood.”
But in order to prevent the blood avenger from taking the life of an innocent man, the cities of refuge were established. If a man accidently killed someone else, he could run to one of these cities and hide. As long as he was there, he was protected from the blood avenger. It was up to the residents of the city (mostly Levites) to help determine whether this individual was a manslayer or murderer. If it was determined that he had killed the other premeditatedly and intentionally, he was to be handed over to the blood avenger who could seek retribution. But if it was determined that the death was unintentional and accidental, then the “manslayer” would be allowed to stay in the city of refuge until the high priest died. In essence, the city became his prison. If he ever left, he would be guilty of violating his sentence and the blood avenger could seek his death. All of this sounds very barbaric to us, but you have to remember that Israel had no police force for carrying out justice or enforcing laws. Murder was wrong and justice must be served. Killing someone accidently also had to be dealt with, but in a different manner. So that is why these cities were established. God was protecting the innocent.
So what does all this have to do with us? What lessons can we learn from this chapter? Well, the cities of refuge are a picture of Christ. He provides shelter for the sinner from judgment. We all stand guilty before God. We are condemned sinners, and as such, we deserve judgment. Yet God has provided a place of refuge, a place where we can run and seek shelter and protection from the blood avenger. Rather than having to fear condemnation, we find protection in Christ. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT).
In the case of someone seeking refuge in one of these cities, if they remained there until the high priest died, they were forgiven for their sin. They walked away free and clear. The death of the high priest had atoning value just as Jesus death for us atones for our sins. No one could accuse this person once the high priest had died. And we stand as unaccused and uncondemned because of what Christ has done for us. “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us” (Romans 8:33-34 NLT).
We can take refuge in Christ. He is our high priest and He has died for us. His death has set us free once and for all. “God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain of heaven into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the line of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:17-20 NLT).
Father, You have provided Your Son as my city of refuge. I have run to Him and He has died in my place. His death atoned for my sins and as a result, I stand uncondemned before You. I was once guilty, but now I am forgiven. Thank You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men