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Discover the Book - June 22, 2008

  • 2008 Jun 22

 Reflections of Christ in the Cities of Refuge

The Cities of Refuge (Numbers 35, Joshua 20, Deuteronomy 4, 19), remind us of Christ Jesus our hiding place. God commanded that when His people came into possession of the land six Cities of Refuge should be appointed, to which if he who slew a man, through ignorance or unintentionally, might flee from the avenger of blood who, according to Eastern custom, would pursue and kill the man-slayer. Three on each side of the Jordan River-which were provided for a man-slayer guilty of second-degree murder.

Those cities of refuge portray how Christ shelters the sinner from death. It was a very marvelous provision for a man who accidentally killed someone. Maybe the one whom he killed had a hotheaded brother who wanted vengeance. So the fugitive could escape to a city of refuge where he would be protected and his case tried. The elders of the city would investigate the case. If he was acquitted of intentional killing he must remain within the city until the death of the high priest. [2]

We have fled to Jesus Christ, and He is our eternal refuge. As our High Priest, He will never die (Heb. 7:23-25); and we have eternal salvation. No avenger can touch us, because He has already died and arisen from the dead[3].

These six cities of refuge are beautiful types of Christ, to whom we “have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18). Step back with me into the ancient world of the Bible, and listen to this wonderful picture of Christ that God built into their daily lives. To do so look with me at these truths about the Old Testament description of the cities of refuge.

1. God Himself appointed these cities of refuge. This was an act of grace, for all men are sinners and deserve to die. Moses did not choose the cities, to remind us that the Law cannot save anyone. It was not an earthly priest who appointed them, to remind us that religion in any form can't save anyone. These cities and the Christ they picture both came from the loving heart of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

2. God's Word announced these cities of refuge. The six cities are named in Joshua 20:7–8, and they could never be changed. On the authority of the Word of God, a slayer could enter a city and no one could forbid him! So with our salvation: it is promised to us in the Word, and this can never change. There were cities in Israel that were larger and more prominent, but none of them could shelter the sinner. There are many “religions” today, but there is only one way of salvation as announced in God"s Word—faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).

3. Anyone could access these cities of refuge. Now we come to the most wonderful part of the truths of these cities of refuge. They are the clearest pictures of grace in all of the Bible!

First, they were in central places on both sides of the Jordan, so they were easy to reach from any place in the country.  God expressly commanded that roads were to be made to these cities (Deut. 19:3).  If you look at a map of the Holy Land, you find that the six cities were arranged so that no tribe was too far from the place of safety. On the west side of Jordan were Kedesh in the north, Shechem in the central area, and Hebron in the south. Right across the river on the east side (where Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh chose to settle) were Golan in the north, Ramoth in the central section, and Bezer in the south. These cities were accessible. Some of them were located on mounts so as to be even more prominent.  

From Jewish literature we can add some further detail about the highways.  They carefully repaired every spring, after the rains and bad weather of winter.  Further, bridges were built where needed so that people did not have to run down into a ravine but could go straight across, taking the shortest possible route to the city.  At every crossroad were special signs which said, “Refuge!” and pointed in the direction of the city.  These signposts had to be large enough so that a man running hard could easily read them. Runners, learned in the law of God, were stationed to guide the fugitives to the place of safety.[4] We can picture a man coming up the road.  Another man is pursuing him, sword out.  The first man, having no time to use a magnifying glass, approaches the sign and sees the big words, "Refuge" magnified! He runs to the city and is safe.

Second, the cities of refuge were open to all — to the Israelite, the stranger, and sojourner. Joshua 20:9 says, “that whosoever killed a person” (KJV). What verse sounds like this—that whosoever” Right! John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Third, from nonbiblical sources we hear that the great doors of these cities were always left open and never locked. We can see why.  Otherwise a man might die while beating on the door.

Fourth, these sources also tell us that each city of refuge was stocked with food.  It was a completely sufficient refuge, then, not only providing legal protection, but also meeting a man’s needs once he was inside. The cities of refuge were completely adequate for the needs of the endangered ones. So long as the slayer remained in the city, he was safe, and he would be freed when the high priest died.

Fifth, we know from the Bible itself, of course, that if a killer did not flee to a city of refuge there was no other hope. Note that the slayer is told to flee to the city. Such a person could not afford to delay! Have you fled out of desperation to Christ – our City of Refuge?

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