City of Refuge.
Numbers 35-36, John 9
“You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” – Numbers 35:34 ESV
God dwelt among His people, and His very presence demanded that they live set-apart lives. His holiness and righteousness required that they live differently and distinctively, abiding by a stringent set of rules and regulations that governed their behavior and interactions with one another. And yet God knew their weaknesses and fully understood their incapacity to live up to His exacting standards. The entire sacrificial system was designed to deal with their ongoing struggle with sin. He even provided them with six cities of refuge, Levitical cities where someone guilty of unpremeditated murder could run for protection. There was no police force in those days, and it was the responsibility of the next of kin of anyone who had been murdered to bring about justice by executing the one guilty of murder. But God’s holiness required that only those who were guilty of premeditated murder could be executed. To unjustly execute the innocent would have been as evil in God’s sight as to excuse the guilty. So He provided those who had committed murder accidently or impulsively a means of finding justice. They could run to one of the cities of refuge and receive a fair and unbiased trial. If they were deemed innocent of having committed premeditated murder, they could live in the city of refuge and enjoy permanent protection from the “blood avenger.” They were still guilty of murder, but their lives were spared. The city of refuge became their prison until the day that the high priest died. Then his death would serve as an atonement for their sin, providing them with release from their guilt and the right to live among their kinsmen again – innocent and free.
The ongoing presence of God was constantly in jeopardy due to the sinfulness of men. Yet He provided them with countless means by which they could receive restoration and assure His continued existence among them. It was God who set them apart. Without them, they would have been nothing. His presence provided them their distinctiveness. And it was their sin that threatened their uniqueness as His chosen people.
What does this passage reveal about God?
From the day that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God has been actively and aggressively seeking to restore order to the chaos created by their actions. Their sin brought disorder, disobedience and, ultimately, death into the world. It wasn’t long after Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and convinced her husband to join her in rejecting God’s word, that murder showed up on the scene. One of Eve’s own sons would kill his brother. Death entered the scene. And disease would not be far behind it. Their bodies would undergo the inevitable effects of aging. Sin would increase. Rebellion against God would run rampant. And yet God continued to reach out to mankind, offering a form of refuge from the consequences of sin. In a real sense, God’s choosing of Abraham made he and his descendants a “city of refuge” for mankind. The people of Israel would become a single source for God’s abiding presence and divine protection from the guilt and condemnation of sin. It was among the children of God that men could find access to God. It was through the law of God that men could learn of the divine requirements and expectations of a holy God. It was through the sacrificial system instituted by God that men could find atonement for their sins and freedom from the penalty of death they so justly deserved. God had provided a city of refuge among the sons of men. And eventually, God would send His own Son as the ultimate and final means of refuge and escape from sin’s destructive power and God’s righteous judgment.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The Scriptures make it painfully clear that all men are guilty of sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The law of God was given to show men their sin. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the freeway, the law was a constant reminder of man’s proclivity toward disobedience and rebellion. Our guilt is unquestionable and undeniable. Every individual who has ever lived has stood condemned before a holy and righteous God due to the sinful nature passed down to them from Adam and Eve, which has been evidenced by their own sinful behavior. We are all guilty. We all stand condemned. And the very presence of disease and death in our world is an outward reminder of the reality of sin’s devastating consequences.
In the gospels we read of Jesus’ constant encounters with those who suffered from diseases and disorders of all kinds. In John 9, He meets a man who had been blind since birth. This man lived in a constant state of darkness. The disciples, like most of their fellow Jews, believed that this man’s malady was due to either his own sin or the sins of his parents. They were partially right. His blindness was a result of sin entering the world and bringing with it disease and physical disorders. Like so many others, this man was suffering from the lingering effects of sin on God’s creation. Jesus cleared up the confusion by declaring, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV). Jesus would prove to be a city of refuge for this man, providing him with a way of escape from the devastating consequences of sin’s presence in our world. This man lived in darkness, but Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 ESV). Jesus restored his sight. He freed him from darkness. He opened his eyes so that he might physically see, but even more so, that he might spiritually see. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV) and the man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” (John 9:36 ESV). Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you” (John 9:37 ESV). And the man believed.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
At this point in the story, Jesus made an interesting comment. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see many become blind” (John 9:39 ESV). This man had been given the ability by God to see the Son of God. He had been provided with the capacity to physically see so that he might spiritually see. And as a result, he found refuge from his guilt in the Savior. But there would be those who remained blind and ignorant of God’s gift of salvation and healing through His Son. It is probably safe to assume that not everyone who was guilty of murder took advantage of the cities of refuge. They may have taken their chances on their own, assuming they could escape judgment and avoid the wrath of the blood avenger. But it was those who fled to the cities of refuge who found safety and protection. Not everyone who saw Jesus believed in Him. He makes it clear that there were those who remained blind and spiritually sightless, incapable of seeing that He was their only means of escape and their only source of refuge from the devastating consequences of sin. It is to Jesus that I must turn as my city of refuge in this sin-soaked, death-marked world. He alone can provide me with protection from sin’s condemnation and provide me with an assurance of God’s acceptance of my life and His ongoing presence in my life. He is my refuge.
Father, You have provided me with a refuge from the devastating consequences of sin in the world and in my life. You opened my eyes that I might see Your Son as my Savior. You gave me sight. You provided me with a place to run and find protection, forgiveness and, ultimately, atonement for my sins. Thank You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men