April 23rd – Love’s Merciful Provision
with Paul Bowman
Deuteronomy 4:41-43; 19:1-13
Summary statement: In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses told the Israelites to set apart cities of refuge for those who had accidentally killed somebody else, known as a manslayer. The manslayer could not be killed by the avenger of blood, who was the next of kin of the person accidentally killed, so long as he stayed within the walls of the city of refuge. However, if he left this city for even a minute, all of his protection was gone and he could be killed in a moment’s notice. So let’s see what Moses had to say as Michelle Harmon (1st), Alan Beeker (2nd) comes up to read Deuteronomy chapters 4 and 19.
As you can see from the text, there was a huge difference between a manslayer and a murderer. The manslayer had the opportunity to be saved and protected from death whereas the murderer was to be put to death without exception. The first time I read through this text it sounded pretty harsh. “Show him no pity.” But that is the kind of justice that God demands from His people in order to keep the land cleansed of evil. The more research that I did, the more I realized just how similar the cities of refuge are to Jesus Christ. For instance, it may be seen that in Jesus Christ there is no refuge for presumptuous sinners that continue in their trespasses. If we sin willfully, there remains no sacrifice. Those that flee to Christ from their sins shall be safe in Him, but not those that expect to be sheltered by Him for their sins. Salvation itself cannot save such: divine justice will fetch them even from the city of refuge, the protection of which they are not entitled to. So let’s talk for a bit about the cities of refuge and what they meant to the Israelites.
As I researched these verses, the cities of refuge were oftentimes called the cities of asylum. I’ve always thought that the word “asylum” had a negative connotation to it, such as an insane asylum where the mentally unstable go. But it isn’t necessarily a negative word; in fact, the word “asylum” can mean a place of sanctuary, shelter, safe haven, or refuge. In medieval times the Catholic Church was used as an asylum for criminals and outlaws; they could not be harmed or taken away so long as they stayed within the church walls. This was a concept founded upon the cities of refuge.
The cities of refuge are also talked about in more detail in the book of Numbers and the book of Judges. These state that the manslayer is not allowed to leave the city until the death of the High Priest, otherwise he can be killed at his own risk. To me, that sounds like being in jail. But that is not the case! I’ll give you an example: Let’s say this law is still in effect to this day and you live here in Hillsdale. You kill someone on accident while cleaning your gun or something. The brother of the person you accidentally killed is going to come kill you now. So now you have to take off and go live in Jackson till the death of the High Priest, or perhaps Pastor Keith in this example. So you have to stay within the city of Jackson till Pastor Keith dies, but while you’re there you can own a home, work a job, travel anywhere within Jackson city limits, own pets, etc. Your friends and family could come visit you and everything. So it’s definitely much better and more free than jail is.
However, even though it is more freeing than jail is, it is still a serious matter. The institution of the right of asylum serves above all to limit the rights of blood-revenge, which has absolute authority; that is, whenever one of a family is killed the next of kin know that they will be called upon to exact revenge. Our lawgiver too takes for granted that the avenger of blood ‘in hot anger’ cannot be expected to distinguish between murder and unintentional killing. At the same time, blood-revenge is not by any means a custom which the lawgiver wishes to abolish. Because Christ had not come to the earth yet to bring the New Laws, the Old Law was still intact and God had no intention of changing it; His Word is absolute. God didn’t intend this law to prevent the avenger of blood from gaining vengeance on the murderer, but to require the avenger to act knowledgeably only after the accused murderer received a fair hearing. Even though He wasn’t going to change it yet, He still found a way to show them grace through it all.
When God is telling the Israelites to set aside this land for those who have unintentionally killed, He is being graceful to both parties, the manslayer and the avenger alike. He is showing grace to the manslayer by allowing him to flee and live peacefully and free in a new territory without fear of persecution, giving him his life back instead of allowing him to be killed. At the same time, he is showing grace to the family member who is called to “exact revenge” by stopping him from committing murder and sinning against God. In his anger, he would kill this man who is innocent, thus condemning the killer to be a murderer rather than someone who brings justice.
Not only was He being graceful to both parties, but He was showing them grace in the areas that He designated to them after their banishment. All the land that He prescribed to them was close to the mainland in case they needed provisions. Rather than casting them out into the desert or an island and completely abandoning them to the wilderness, He made sure they were still close to the main cities in case they needed help or provisions or so that their family members could come visit them.
Lastly, God appointed the cities of refuge to be Levitical cities. Why did He do this? The sacrificial system alone afforded refuge–and while the suspected person was excluded from his family, he had the advantage of being with those whose business it was to instruct the ignorant, and comfort the disconsolate. Thus, he had the means constantly at hand, by a careful use of which he might grow wiser and better; secure the favor of his God, and a lot of blessedness in a better world.
So even though you couldn’t go back to your original home until the high priest died, the place you had to stay was a wonderful place full of people who would look out for you and help you grow mentally, emotionally, and, most importantly, spiritually. There’s no way God could have planned that, right?
So now let’s talk a little more about the avenger of blood, or the goel, as he is called in the Bible. Goel is a word that literally translates as “redeemer,” and it come from the Hebrew word gaal which means can mean “kinsman, redeemer, avenger,” etc. The Jewish law gave the right of redeeming and repurchasing, as well as of avenging blood, to the next relative, who was accordingly called by this name. God had a passion to make sure that murderers were punished in ancient Israel, and in that culture, the final responsibility for justice rested with the designated goel (avenger of blood) in the family. One who intentionally killed another person was to be put to death by the avenger of blood. Such retribution could not be negated by the payment of “blood money” to the relatives of the deceased in compensation for the murder. The reasoning for this was that if a rich person committed murder, they would be able to buy their way out of death, whereas a poor person would not be able to. Therefore, because God is perfect and demands justice, no one can buy their way out of death. Death must be repaid with death. Just as we cannot buy our way into heaven, so the murderer could not buy their safety from death.
I’m going to read now from Numbers chapter 35 to give a little more detail about the cities of refuge and what they have to do with our Savior: Then the Lord said to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly. These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.
In the legislation of Numbers 35 there is no city of refuge available to us, for we are all murderers in our hearts and minds, even if not with our lips and hands. No ransom can deliver us: all of our silver and gold cannot save us. There is no good deed that we can do to atone for our sin; our righteousness cannot rescue us. If all of us are murderers and we all face this punishment, then it appears that we have nothing to expect but the certain coming of the Avenger, demanding the just punishment for our sin, which is our death.
Yet at the very moment when it appears that we are most without hope, we see that the provision of the gospel far exceeds the grace available under the Law. In the gospel, the heavenly Avenger has become our Redeemer. These two offices are fused in one, just as they were in the book of Numbers. In Jesus Christ, God Himself took on human flesh and became our kinsman, not to pursue us and condemn us but to deliver us. The Avenger comes after us, and we flee from him in fear; yet when he catches us, instead of killing us, he throws his arms around us and says ‘Come on home–your sin has been atoned for.’ The one we expected to be our judge and executioner was himself judged and executed in our place. Jesus Christ is God’s avenger of blood. He is protector of His family and charged with making sure justice is carried out against the one who sinned against God. However, instead of avenging God by killing us, He was sent to shed His own blood and die for us so that we wouldn’t have to. Instead of running away from the avenger of blood, we run TO Him because He shed His own blood instead of ours, eternally protecting us from death.
“So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about; He is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against him. And He knows that and has taken it into account. He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms. So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us the hope of salvation. Our hope is in his determination to save us, and he will not give in.”
So where can we find this in the New Testament? I believe that Hebrews 6:18 is a good verse to look to in regards to this concept: God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.
His Word and His Oath. These are the two unchangeable things. They establish for us the immutability of His counsel. Never will He fail in any promise He has given or in anything which He has said that He will do.
And all this, you notice, is valid for us today. Verse 18 makes this very clear. What God was for Abraham He is for us. This is the beauty of these Old Testament unfoldings of God. What He is, He is in all times and places, and to all. The strong consolation flowing from these two immutable things is to be enjoyed by us who have embraced the Christian hope.
The Hebrews are said to have “fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope.” Why did the author word it this way? Because it would at once carry their minds back to the regulations given concerning the cities of refuge, in Numbers 35.
Those regulations had a typical significance which was exactly fulfilled in the case of the converted Jew. He was just like the manslayer who had fled to the nearest city of refuge. Had Israel’s national sin, in crucifying their Messiah, been reckoned as murder by God there would have been absolutely no hope. All must have fallen before the avenger of blood. The prayer of Jesus on the cross was however, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That was just as if He had said, “Father, account this sin of theirs to be manslaughter and not murder.” God heard that prayer, so there was hope even for those who encompassed His death. Consequently, on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached forgiveness for those who would turn in faith to the risen and exalted Jesus. That day the heavenly city of refuge was opened and there fled to it three thousand souls. Wow! How crazy is that?
So what other similarities might there be between these cities and our Savior?
- The cities all within a half-day’s distance between each other and the mainland. Christ is our refuge and is always close at hand.
- The manslayer was safe in these lands. Those who flee to Christ are protected from the wrath of God and the curse of the law.
- These were Levite cities in the midst of Levites who could teach them the good knowledge of the Lord, as well as comfort and encourage them. Christ is always there to teach us, comfort us, and encourage us in order to help us grow closer to Him.
- Both strangers and sojourners could take refuge in the cities. So in Christ Jesus no difference is made between Greek and Jew, all are welcome.
- The borders of the city were safe and secure. So we shall always be under Christ’s protection so long as we keep the faith.
- The protection that the manslayer found within the cities of refuge was not because of the solitude of the fortress but because of divine appointment. So it is the Word of the Gospel that gives our souls safety in Christ, for him hath God the Father sealed.
- If the manslayer was caught outside of the borders, he lost the benefit of protection. So those that are in Christ must abide in Christ, for it is at their peril if they forsake Him and wander from Him.
- Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn’t come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around.
Deuteronomy 19:8-10 discusses the expansion of the lands given to the manslayers: “If the Lord your God enlarges your territory… then you are to set aside three more cities.” Verse 8 allows for the possibility that Israel might expand still further to the full measure of the territory described to the forefathers. This is a perfect vision of God’s expansion for future Gentiles after the Resurrection of Jesus. Before this, only Jews or converted Jews could be saved, but after the Resurrection, anyone at all could be saved, Jew or Gentile alike. Jesus had a Holy Land that was designated for the Jews, but after His death and resurrection, He expanded that land for anyone who would come to Him. See Numbers 35:9-15, verse 15: “These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that kills any person unawares may flee to,” (italics added for emphasis). This refuge was to be both for the children of Israel, the Jews, and for the stranger, the Gentiles.
What about some of the differences though? Not everything about these cities is the same as Christ being our refuge. For instance, the city of refuge was permanently available only to such manslayers as had acted without evil intent. Not so our City of Refuge! Christ will save the uttermost, so long as they are truly repentant. Also, the manslayer was to remain in the city until the high priest died, but our High Priest never dies! Because of this, we not only get to be free, but we get even more freedom than ever before.
Christ is not a refuge in the sense of a criminal being able to outrun justice. The picture in Israel was the picture of a man fleeing for refuge and an avenger fleeing after him; and if the avenger were swifter of foot, the manslayer might be killed outside the city. There is no such picture in Christianity. In Christ, we do not outrun justice: justice itself, by a mystery we can neither understand nor explain, has been satisfied by Christ.
Now pertaining to the names of the Cities, I will give a quick word due to the amazing plan of God found within.
- Kadesh – to separate, or set apart, because it implies the consecration of a person or thing to the worship or service of God alone; hence to make, or be holy; and hence Kadesh, holiness, the full consecration of a person to God.
- Shechem – to be ready, forward, and diligent; hence Shechem the shoulder, because of its readiness to bear burdens.
- Hebron – to associate, join, conjoin, unite as friends; and hence, Chebron, fellowship, friendly association.
- Bezer – to restrain, inclose, shut up, or encompass with a wall; and hence the goods or treasure thus secured: and hence a fortified place, a fortress.
- Ramoth – to be raised, made high, or exalted.
- Golan – to remove, transmigrate, or pass away.”
Not only were these cities of refuge a vision of God’s expansion for future Gentiles, they were named with the Christlike qualities that we are sheltered under when we run to Christ: He will make us set apart as holy, He will make us diligent and bear our burdens for us, He will give us close fellowship with Himself, He will be our fortress, He was exalted and will exalt us, He will remove our sins forever. Hence their names have been considered as descriptive of some character of office of Christ.
The Bible gives strict rules and regulations about the pathways leading to the cities of refuge, so I just thought I would say a little bit about them. The way to the cities was made plain and large; every year care was taken to make the way good, to remove every hillock, or anything that hindered; if there was a river in the way, to make a bridge over it; and where more ways met, to set up pillars with a hand to them, and these words written on it, “refuge, refuge”; nor was the road to be less in breadth than thirty two cubits; and there was always room in these cities; and whoever fled there was safe; but those that were found without died. As impediments were removed out of the manslayer’s way, and the road was made as easy and obvious to him as possible, so it is a very simple thing to believe in Christ, and thus to flee to our spiritual City of Refuge–so much so, that its extreme simplicity sometimes puzzles us, and makes us look with distrust upon faith, as if so very obvious a thing could not be the appointed way of coming to God. Christ is known to be a refuge for distressed sinners; and He is open to all that come unto Him, and at all times; the way of life and salvation by Him is plainly pointed out in the Gospel, and by the ministers of it; who are appointed to direct unto Him, and to remove all impediments and discouragements from such who are seeking to Him; and though so many have been received and saved by Him, still there is room for more; and whoever betake themselves to Him are safe, but those that are without Him die and perish.
Now I would like to discuss the death of the High Priest and why the manslayer had to stay in the city until this event. You would think that the manslayer could return to his homeland when the High Priest would forgive the land of their sins each year on the Day of Atonement, but this is not so. The manslayer could not return even though the land was forgiven; he had to wait until the death of the High Priest. This concept indicates that the high priest represented all who sought refuge, and bore the iniquity of the spilled blood to his own grave. By doing this he released the manslayer from the burden of accountability. This is appropriate for two reasons:
- The high priest was head of the tribe of Levi. All the cities of refuge were Levitical cities. The activities of the cities of refuge therefore came under his responsibility.
- Even more importantly, the high priest, as spiritual leader, represented purity and freedom from sin. One of his roles was to expiate innocently shed blood.
The later rabbis interpreted the death of the high priest as atonement for the injustice of the manslaughter. A murderer defiled the earth and caused the presence of God to be withdrawn, while the high priest caused the presence of God to abide with humanity. He was a mainstay of the community. Jesus is the final High Priest, and His death was the atonement for all our sins. Christ is God incarnate, and once He ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came and now the presence of God abides everywhere at all times.
An unintentional manslayer was free to leave a city of refuge only when the high priest died. Why? Although the killer was not guilty of first-degree murder, he had committed the inadvertent/accidental offense of manslaughter. A purification offering of an animal could remedy other kinds of inadvertent faults, but not manslaughter, because it took the life of a human being. Only the life of another person could suffice, and only a priest was authorized to bear the culpability of others. However, instead of calling for legal/ritual slaughter of a priest in place of the accused manslayer, the Lord accepted the natural death of the high priest as satisfying the demand of justice.
In the New Testament, Christ is the heavenly high priest, but His expiatory death on behalf of sinners was not a natural one. Bearing human sin as Priest and then dying for that sin as sacrificial Victim, He has united in Himself the roles by which we are set free from culpability so that we are free to go “home.”
So what would happen if they left before the death of the High Priest? Well the Bible gives a very quick and subtle example of this found in 2 Samuel chapters 2 and 3. To sum it up, Saul had just died in battle. Abner was the commander of Saul’s army. Joab was in David’s army. Abner and Joab were sitting on opposite sides of a lake when they met up and had their men start fighting each other. Abner and his men lost. Asahel, Joab’s brother, started to chase Abner and wouldn’t give up. Abner killed Asahel accidentally by thrusting the butt of his spear through Asahel’s stomach. Joab (who is now the goel, avenger of blood) chased Abner to kill him. Abner fled to a city of refuge and stayed for a while. Joab ended up coercing him outside the city and stabbed him in the stomach. Death. Death is what was awaiting a manslayer if he should leave the city before the death of the High Priest, so it is death that awaits us if we should leave the protection of our Refuge. The only place to find protection from the avenger of blood was in the city of refuge. You could be as repentant as you wanted to be, but if you were anyplace else besides the city of refuge, it wouldn’t matter. And if we don’t flee to the refuge that God has provided us in Christ Jesus, there is no spiritual asylum for us, no salvation apart from Him.
So what’s the pattern that we can see here so far? A manslayer deserved death, so he would flee to a place of refuge, which would be his only hope from warranted death. The path to his refuge was made to be straight and clear without any stumbling blocks. Once he arrived, he would have to confess his sins to elders at the gates. He was then judged as to whether or not his plea for his sins was true, whether he was considered a manslayer or a murderer. If they judged him to be manslayer, he was allowed to stay in the refuge until the death of the High Priest, giving him freedom so long as he stayed under the protection of his refuge. Once the High Priest died, his sins were atoned for and he was free to leave. How lucky are we that we can have this refuge as well, but our High Priest will never die, so we will always be free and atoned for so long as we stay under His protection!
We deserve death – Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We need a Refuge – Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”
Christ is our only hope – Proverbs 18:10 “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”
The path to Christ is made straight and clear – Proverbs 4:26-27 “Watch the path of your feet And all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; Turn your foot from evil.”
We must confess our sins – 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The Lord will judge whether our repentance is true or fake – Matthew 6:5, 7:21-23 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
We have all freedom in Christ – John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
He atones for our sins – 1 John 2:2 “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Now I’ve covered almost every topic so far, so I would like to discuss the topic of blood for a minute so that you can see the importance that it truly has to God. Deuteronomy 19:5-13 mentions that the shedding of innocent blood in Israel’s land would be a social evil that would bring guilt on the nation (v.10). It would be wrong both to allow the innocent to be killed and to allow the guilty to go unpunished (v.13). Killing somebody, even unintentionally, was not considered to be a crime in which only the killer was affected, it affected the entire land, both the physical land as well as all the people within it.
DEFILEMENT BY BLOOD
The provisions made for the innocent manslayer did have a spiritual significance.
Numbers chapter 35 and verses 32 to 33:
And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.
It is saying in verse 33 that blood will defile the land. Now when we think about defilement we probably think of ceremonial defilement under the law of Moses. For under the law of Moses it was a sign of sin having entered that thing which is defiled. Whenever blood was shed, the sin which had contributed to the man’s death, and was represented by his blood, was absorbed by the land which was defiled as a consequence.
Whenever life was violently terminated, even accidentally, the law had particular requirements so as to demonstrate a spiritual principle. God wanted to show that sin also leads to death. So the laws treatment of a life terminated by another can show that in a similar way sin can also terminate a life. As a result, some sort of compensation or amends was needed for the death.
A killer put himself on the side of sin, by killing someone. For even if he had killed someone accidentally, he has still taken someone’s life which is strictly the prerogative of sin. He had put a man to death, which normally only sin can do. So his actions had made him “sin” even if only accidentally.
Now if we take this to the next step, we know that since sin brings death, it must be destroyed, therefore the killer who has also brought death must also be killed.
This is verified by verse 33 of Numbers chapter 35 when it says:
“…The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it”.
Now the use of the word “land” meant more than the physical surface of the earth – it also included the people. The defilement of sin, in the matter of taking life, was extended to the community. It was also the community that had the responsibility for its expiation (the act of atonement – amending for something done which was wrong).
For example, if the death was through murder then Deuteronomy chapter 21 made it clear that the whole community would get involved. If a man was found slain and there was no clue as to who might be the killer, then the slain man’s blood would be expiated through the death of a heifer appointed for the purpose. This would be followed by the solemn renunciation of responsibility by the community which had dwelled nearest his body. So in the cases of taking of a life through murder the whole community was involved.
However if the taking of a life was by accident then the accidental manslayer could not, with justice, be put to death to expiate the blood of his victim. But there is an important principle that comes into play here. As the manslayer fled to one of the cities of refuge to be absolved from the responsibility of the “sin” of his actions, the same principle applies for those who seek refuge in Christ for identification with Christ absolves the sin.
The crime of murder is not only an offense against the sanctity of life; it is in fact a pollutant to the Lord’s sacred land. It is like the blood of innocent Abel screaming out to the Lord (Gen 4:10). Only the blood of Christ will be able to speak a better word (Hebrews 12:24). Remember that? When the Lord is questioning Cain about where Abel is and Cain pleads the fifth, the Lord says, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Even though our human ears can’t perceive such a thing, the Lord knows all things, and He created both humans and the land we live on, so He should be able to hear the screams of innocent blood being shed upon it. How much more did He hear the blood of His perfect and innocent Son being shed? Rather than hearing the screams of someone being murdered, He heard the victorious trumpets of His Son’s blood being shed, over all the nations of the earth. He cleansed the entire Earth with His blood.
If God is to be resident among His people, then the land may not be polluted. With all the attention we (rightly) give to issues of ecology and pollution in our own day, there is an act of pollution that far transcends the trashing of rivers, the killing of lakes, the denuding of forests, and the spilling of oils to mar even the seas; this is the abuse of persons. The worst abuse of all is wrongful death. God will not draw near a land where blood is the polluting agent. How about this? Does this sound familiar too? And we wonder why God feels so distant at times!
If we want God to protect our land and nation, we should not be shedding blood; this will defile it.
Protection of a nation’s land, Does not come from its mighty hand;
Security is just a fraud. Unless the people trust in God.
Trust in God… In God we trust. That sounds like America to me. Or should I say how America used to be. America was founded on the principles of trusting in God, on actually having justice for all and keeping God’s Word. Deuteronomy 19:13 clearly states, “You shall not pity him.” This is a recurrent theme in Deuteronomy. Human compassion or national feelings cannot change YHWH’s laws. Israel must be holy! Israel’s future prosperity (and even her remaining in the Promised Land) is conditioned on her obedience. The same is to be said of America, which had been coined the New Israel because it was founded upon the same beliefs that Israel had about God.
The rights of the individual need to be protected in our society even against legitimate institutions operating within the law, particularly in matters of capital punishment. Though we do not have “cities of refuge” in a physical sense, we do have courts of appeal, and the person guilty of manslaughter must enjoy the full benefit of protection until murder can be demonstrated. At the same time, we should remember that the “city of refuge” in ancient Israel was not simply a place of safety. It was a place in which the manslayer made atonement for the deed of which he was guilty. Within our present legal system, we have often lost sight of this principle. We need to find ways within our legal process to provide means of atonement as well as punishment or mere lengthy delay in reaching appropriate legal decisions within our courts of law.
Though the Israelites stood against the pagan societies around them, their hearts were to be open to receive any foreigner who would adopt their religion and their customs. Does that sound familiar? Probably not anymore.
How, then, shall we respond to the incredible grace that we have received? Surely the fitting response is to make our churches cities of refuge, places of grace where others encounter the same mercy that we have received. The church is a community of forgiven sinners and should therefore provide a warm welcome for all who come seeking a refuge from their sins. It should be a community of forgiven sinners who are also a community of forgiving sinners.
If the persons for whom the cities of refuge were provided removed or were found away from them they were justly left to perish. There is a Savior, but only one; an atonement, but only one; a way to heaven, but only one; and when once we have admitted the great fact with regard to the reason of the Savior’s incarnation and sacrifice on the Cross and His ascension into heaven, we are by necessity brought to the conclusion and shut up to the confirmed belief of this truth, that “neither is there salvation in any other, for this is none other name.”
I want to read this quote by Francis Chan because I think it should really hit home with all of us. When you are pursuing love, running toward Christ, you do not have opportunity to wonder, Am I doing this right? or Did I serve enough this week? When you are running toward Christ, you are freed up to serve, love, and give thanks without guilt, worry, or fear. As long as you are running, you are safe. But running is exhausting – if, that is, we are running from sin or guilt, out of fear. (Or if we haven’t run in a while.) However, if we train ourselves to run toward our Refuge, toward Love, we are free – just as we are called to be. As we begin to focus more on Christ, loving Him and others becomes more natural. As long as we are pursuing Him, we are satisfied in Him. It is when we stop actively loving Him that we find ourselves restless and gravitating toward other means of fulfillment.
Christ is our refuge, as well as the avenger. He demands justice, but He also provides mercy.
Refuges can be tainted and perverted. America was to be the greatest refuge of all time. When our Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, America was to be a nation unlike any before it, based on Christian principles in order to worship God freely without fear of persecution. Fast-forward two centuries and where are we today? Around 3,000 babies are murdered by abortion each day in the US; think of all the defiled blood on our land because of that! Language and common sense have taken a leap out the window, and God is no longer allowed in our schools or government so as not to “offend” anyone. Our American principles were FOUNDED on these same principles that people are being offended by today! America is no longer the safe refuge it was founded to be, but take care! Christ is our ultimate and perfect refuge, and we can never be hurt so long as we stay under His protection. He is our refuge, our Redeemer, and He will never forsake us. I want to end with a story about a man and his son and how it pertains to our live.
ON EAGLE’S WINGS
As many have correctly said, the Christian life isn’t difficult; it’s impossible. Only by his grace and His aid can we succeed.
Consider the widowed, wealthy man who shared with his son a passion for collecting art. Together they traveled the world, adding only the finest treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, van Gogh, Monet, and many others adorned the walls of the family estate.
As winter approached one year, war engulfed the nation and the young man left to serve his country. After a few weeks, his father received a telegram. The young man had died while attempting to evacuate a wounded fellow soldier.
Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with dread. What was left to celebrate? His joy was gone.
Early on Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the grieving man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls seemed to mock him. Of what value were they without his son to share the beauty?
Opening the door, he saw a young man in uniform with a large package in his hands. “I was a friend to your son,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in? I have something to show you.”
The soldier told of how the man’s son had talked so much about art and the joy of collecting masterpieces alongside his father. “I’m something of an artist myself,” the soldier said shyly. “And, well, I wanted you to have this.”
As the old man unwrapped the package, he revealed a portrait of his son. Though the world would never consider it a work of genius, the painting somehow captured the young man’s likeness. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture above his fireplace.
A few hours later, the old man set about his task. True to his word, he put the painting above his fireplace, pushing aside a fortune in classic artworks. The old man sat in his chair and spent Christmas day gazing at the gift.
During the days and weeks that followed, the man gradually realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy would live on because of those he had touched. His son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet had cut him down.
Fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease the old man’s grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.
The following spring, the old man passed away. With the famous collector’s passing, the art world eagerly anticipated a great auction. According to the collector’s will, all of the works would be auctioned on Christmas Day, the day he had received the greatest gift.
The day soon arrived, and art dealers from around the world gathered. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; many would soon claim, “I have the greatest collection.” The auction began, however, with a painting that was not on any museum’s list.
It was the simple portrait of a young soldier… the collector’s son.
The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent. “Who will open with a bid of one hundred dollars?” he asked. Minutes passed and no one spoke. From the back of the room came a gruff voice, “Who cares about that? It’s just a picture of his son.” More voices echoed in agreement. “Let’s forget about it and move on to the good stuff.”
“No,” the auctioneer replied. “We have to sell this one first.”
Finally, a neighbor of the old man spoke. “Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That’s all I can spare. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”
“I have ten dollars,” called the auctioneer. “Will anyone go higher?” After more silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once; going twice; sold!” The gavel fell. Cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can get on with it!”
But at that moment, the auctioneer looked up at the audience and quietly announced that the auction was over. Stunned disbelief blanketed the room. Finally someone spoke up. “What do you mean, it’s over? We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son! What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars’ worth of art here! What’s going on?”
The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son… gets it all.”
And so it is.
When we have Christ as our refuge, we have everything we need. Every provision is taken care of for us because if we have Him, we have All. So, who are you running to? Let’s pray.