Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there. They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment. And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge. You shall appoint three cities on this side of the Jordan, and three cities you shall appoint in the land of Canaan, which will be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there (Numbers 35:10-15, NKJV)
Have you ever had your life derailed by sudden loss? Have you ever hurt others accidentally or intentionally? Welcome to the human race.
God knows the struggle we all face. Paul, in describing our human condition, reveals that Jesus Christ is the only solution to humanity:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life… But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 5: 8, 10,21).
In this passage, as the Israelites prepare to embrace their new destiny as conquerors of Canaan, God released crucial instructions to Moses. God established six strategic places of mercy for His people named “cities of refuge”. Cities of refuge were designated havens where a person could flee to avoid an avenging family for the accidental slaying of their relative. In the city of refuge, a person could live in safely, free from the threat of retaliation, since by law, the family of the slain could not enter these cities to avenge their deceased loved one. If, however, the person ventured outside the city of refuge, the avenging family could then execute the manslayer with impunity. The house arrest would remain in place for the person until the death of the high priest, when the person could return home, back to their family property without fear of retribution.
To access the cities of refuge, the congregation would first determine if there was intent for murder and the murderer would be executed by the victim’s family, life for life. However, if the tribal congregants determined that the slayer did not have intent, the tribe would protect the slayer from the grief-stricken victim’s family and send the slayer to a city of refuge. No bribes to amend these consequences were tolerated. The kinsmen had every right to avenge the death of their loved one, should the slayer return before their sentence was over. God tolerated no mercy for those convicted of murder and no revenge against those judged as manslayers. The value of life is priceless to God, the Giver of Life.
God in His mercy, laid out the cities in Canaan and across the Jordan, that wherever you lived, you could access a city of refuge within a day’s journey. Better yet, Israelite citizenship was not required, as stated in Num 35: 15, “These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites, aliens and any other person living among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there. “ Come as you are, dear people, for God’s mercy has no limitations on His welcome home.
After God laid out the blueprint, years later, Joshua obeyed and established the six cities of refuge:
So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. On the east side of the Jordan of Jericho they designated Bezer in the desert on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. Any of the Israelites or any alien living among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly (Joshua 20:7-9).
When God decreed cities of refuge to be set apart before the Israelites had stepped a single foot onto Canaan, God mandated his priesthood to provide refuge. In His mercy, God provided not a jail, but a haven where the slayer could dwell safely, though his freedom was kept within the boundaries of that city. The names of the cities are incredibly significant: Kedesh – “Sanctuary”, Golan – “Exile”, Ramoth – “ Heights”, Bezer – “Gold”, Hebron – “Community” and Shechem means “Shoulder”.
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; and you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you— the sure mercies of David (Isa. 55:1-3).
With the refuge of Shechem, God extends His shoulder to weep upon for those who have accidentally caused great loss and then extends to us the authority to govern:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ (1 Cor. 1:3-5).
In Hebron, God places us in community to eradicate that orphan spirit brought in through trauma and bring wholeness through the life force of spiritual mothers and fathers:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-20).
In Bezer, God whispers His love to us, calling us the finest, the most beautiful, when we cry to Him. The Lord extends His Hand to come to His side, and we, the mess-ups, are called royal, as He saturates us with His love:
I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see (Rev. 3:18).
I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore (Psalm 121).
In the wilderness of Golan, God tenderly works on our hearts, woos us back to His side, and eases the pain of loss with the balm of His destiny:
Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field will honor Me, The jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness And rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise. (Isa. 43:18-21)
The Door Who swings wide open and welcomes us to refuge is Jesus, who paid the ultimate price to usher us into Father’s embrace. Our High Priest died a brutal death to purchase our freedom from sin’s tyranny. In mercy, God established the manslayer could return home only upon the death of the High Priest of the nation of Israel. Jesus, our Great High Priest, died for all, that each of us could come home to God, all wages of sin paid in full, by His Blood sacrifice. As Hebrews 6:18 states, “We might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”
As royal priests, may we encounter the refuge of God and then, may we love others clamoring at the door of need with faith to say, “Come in, He’s waiting to see you”.
Let’s Pray: Merciful Jesus, thank You for refuge from sin and its death wages. Father God, as Your royal priests, may we present Jesus as the open door of grace to all. Thank you, Jesus, our Great High Priest, for the freedom that cost You everything. Sweet Holy Spirit of God, lead us to walk humbly, act justly and love mercy, that we would be living cities of our God, great cities of refuge for those crying for mercy. Amen.
- As priests of God, what perspective can we offer to those who can only see their mess?
- As lovers of God, do we offer living water to those who thirst in the barren places? Are we willing to dig wells for those in the desert place?
- Are children of God, do we abide in community? Are we family to those whom God has placed around us? Do we still see ourselves on a singular journey when God calls us into family to have the greater adventure and greater growth?
- Do we offer our blind eyes to the Lord, our naked need and our longing for encounter in expectation of His mercy? Can we lift our faces before Him and let Him heal us with His declarations of love?
Next Week’s Reading: Deuteronomy 3 – 12