“You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan; they are to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the sons of Israel, and for the alien and for the sojourner among them; that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there” (35:14, 15).
After reaching Canaan, God graciously provided Israel with six cities of the Levites He termed “cities of refuge.” Apparently, these cities were among the forty-eight cities God had designated for the Levites throughout Israel.
We think of when Peter asked Jesus, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27). Peter was concerned about what the reward would be. Jesus responded that the blessing would be a hundred times more in this life, and, in heaven, eternal life (Matthew 19:28, 29; Mark 10:29, 30). Later in life, in his maturity, Peter declared that we are to regard this life as living as a brief traveler who is away from his permanent home (1 Peter 2:11). Often we may ask, “Lord, I’m committing myself to your work and cause. What is my destiny and reward?” Scripture closes with a beautiful picture of a city for all the heavenly inhabitants; a city which is worth the journey; an inheritance which is worth the wait. Let it serve as an encouragement and an incentive to continue in faithful service to His cause.
I. The cities of refuge (35:9-34)
The seventh commandment in the Law of Moses declared, “You shall not murder.” This absolute command was then followed with other statutes that defined what God considered to be the willful taking of another’s life. Numbers 35:16-21 mentions what we would term premeditated murder. That crime was to carry a penalty of death for the slayer, with no exceptions, when the incident was provable (35:30- 34).
We must note that families acted on behalf of their members to carry out God’s justice. Family honor, as well as God’s moral nature, was at stake when a life was purposefully taken. The next of kin acted as an avenger against the slayer. This was a sin against the family as well as against God (cf. Genesis 9:5, 6). Early in man’s history this principle was also true, for God had to mark Cain so that no one would kill him (Genesis 4:14, 15). Later in Samuel’s time, a veiled reference appears regarding family vengeance (2 Samuel 14:6, 7).
What about unintentional slayings? God in His infinite wisdom planned in His law even for these occurrences (cf. Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Such cases still had to be settled and the family of the victim would want a detailed explanation of the slaying before they would be satisfied. God, therefore, set up six cities of refuge.
The cities of refuge were conveniently placed in the southern, middle, and northern parts of Palestine so that no Israelite would be far from one. Three were on the west side of the Jordan and three on the east side. God commanded that roads be built to the cities so that the person fleeing could travel to them in haste (Deuteronomy 19:3). If an unintentional incident occurred, the case was to be handled as follows:
II. Christ, our refuge
As Jesus was facing the cross, He used the occasion of the perfume being poured over Him (Mark 14:8) as a symbol of anointing before His death and burial. The writer of the Hebrew epistle states, that through His obedience, Jesus became the source of salvation to all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:7-10). The writer declared that the anointing of Jesus allowed Him to make intercession as a permanent High Priest (Hebrews 7:23-25). The Bible declares, that like the high priest in the Old Testament, the death of Jesus terminated any hostility God had against us (Colossians 2:13, 14; Hebrews 7:26, 27).
Like the Israelite, who found a need for the place of refuge, we have a need for Jesus today. Paul said that our commitment of sin has placed us in jeopardy (Romans 7:9-11). Satan is after us. Our souls have been wounded. Satan seeks to permanently terminate our relationship with God. We face spiritual death (Romans 6:23; 7:24). Who then can deliver us? Through God’s divine plan, He has given us a place of refuge. It is found in His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16; 6:18-20). Notice the terminology used in these Scriptures: “fled for refuge” and “to flee for safety.” We run to Christ because we are being hotly pursued. Sachel Page, the great baseball pitcher, once said: “Never look back; something may be gaining on ya.” I recall when my children were younger and a thunderstorm would hit. When the thunder was really loud and the wind was racing, often our kids got scared. So there would often be a knock at our bedroom door. Both of them came in our bed until the storm was past. They felt safer being together. The same is true of sin and salvation. When we have fled for protection from sin’s penalties, we find comfort in being in our Father’s care. The storms of life may rage all around; but, they do not seem so terrible when we are in God’s arms. We must also stay under God’s divine protection throughout our lives in order to have His uninterrupted protection. If the manslayer left the city of refuge before the high priest died, he could be sought out and slain by the avenger. If we leave Christ and the fellowship of His church, Satan will surely slay us again. Outside the protection of Christ, our High Priest, God can do nothing for us.
We are encouraged, in Scripture, because we learn that, not only does God protect us until this life is over, but His divine protection extends into eternity. In Revelation 21:27 and 22:15, John states that nothing sinful and harmful will come into that heavenly city of eternal refuge.
Where you are living now will determine where you will live eternally. Are you inside or outside the refuge found in Christ? If you are outside of His refuge, you still have time to flee to Him.