I remember one day as a kid in Indiana, I was hiding one day in the furnace room of grandmother Carson's house in Hartford City. I had done something naughty. I was in big trouble. I had accidentally broken one of my grandmother's glass dishes. That was a bad thing. My security was jeopardized because I knew that adults tend to spank first and then think about it later. I didn't want to be swatted, and so I went and hid. I stayed there in that sequestered spot for a long time because adults tend to swat first and ask questions later. Was it wrong for me to hide? I don't think so.
And I think God agrees with me, because back in the Old Testament days, there were no jails, no police. Each family was sort of on their own. If someone came into your yard and killed your son, you had the right to kill them: you would be legally authorized to take blood vengeance. It was quick and easy. No messy appeals. Probably when Cain killed his brother, Abel, he ran away so fast because maybe he was worried that vengeance would be taken. And this is practiced today in many third world countries to take vengeance. In one area of Italy, there were 600,000 retaliation type murders over a 400 year span of time. It's still going on today. We turn into Hatfields and McCoys real fast.
It's the law of the jungle. God is aware of human nature and so He has provided a way, at least in the days of the children of Israel, an ethical method to deal with this: to check hot vengeance. God meticulously explains this in Exodus 21, Numbers 35, and Deuteronomy 19 about the cities of refuge. Yes, I am going to preach on the cities of refuge today.
God realizes that unpremeditated homicide is not the same as manslaughter. Our kind God demands justice of course, but He also provides for mercy. He provided a hiding place for unintentional killers. So, listen to this as we go through this.
During the forty years that the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness, because the tabernacle was physically present, all the accidental killer had to do was run in and hold onto the horns of the altar, and he was safe. But when the 12 tribes scattered out on either side of the Jordan river in the land of Palestine, it was no longer within easy running distance. You might be as much as one hundred miles from the tabernacle. Therefore God ordained six strategically located cities of refuge, three on either side of the river Jordan, for unintentional killers to escape. Not one of them was so far away that you could not get there quickly.
Now come with me to Deuteronomy 19 where the Bible speaks of these Cities of Refuge. This explains a typical scenario of what might happen and how this would handle that problem. Deuteronomy 19:5 For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Because pretty soon you accidentally killed your neighbor. His relatives are going to be after you. You need to run fast.
Now, was this man guilty or not? Yes, he was guilty. He did kill his neighbor. Did he do it intentionally? No. So, it's not quite the same. Such a man was guilty - but because the crime was unintentional, God provided the killer with a hiding place, like the furnace room. Such a person should quickly run for his life to one of the designated Secure zones .
You remember on the news not long ago a woman was a tourist down in South America. Did you hear about this? She picked up a small local child to just hold the child. People thought, "Aha! She is going to take this little child and take it to a place and harvest its organs for profit. And so they beat her unmercifully. It practically killed her. She didn't have any protection. She had no place to hide. Had those cities been there she could have run. In these last days when terrorism is so rampant and some governments offer so little protection, maybe these cities of refuge need to be built everywhere.
God provided a place of safety in Bible times to eliminate mob vengeance. Our God believes that we are innocent until proven guilty. Our western legal system finds its foundations in this Biblical base.
Accidents happen! Axe heads fly off just like people, fly off the handle. The Israelite family could not sue the axe company for making a shoddy product because there were no attorneys in those days. But they could take out personal revenge on the man who was cutting the tree down, but only if they could out-run him. He must flee quickly to the nearest city of refuge. Probably today we would sue the axe company. We are good suers here in America But they didn't have any attorneys, bless their hearts. And so they had to take personal vengeance. You could do that if you could outrun him. But if he outran you he could get to a city of refuge before you did and you would have a chance to do it.
These six cities were spread out evenly, three on each side of the Jordan River. I suspect each was built on an elevated spot so they could be spotted from a distance. Maybe with a huge flag flying there.
Numbers 35 describes more of this, how they spread these cities out, how they named these cities. Numbers 35:11 "... select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee." Inside those walls the fugitive was safe. However the Refugee had to stay in that city. He can't just go running out. He was fair game outside the walls.
The death of the high priest secures final deliverance. His death marks the end of the statute of limitations, - Numbers 35:25. Like the Year of Jubilee canceled all debts, just so the death of high priest canceled inadvertent blood guilt.
I believe churches are like cities of refuge.
A modern church should be like that. Modern churches should be shelters from the evil of the world. But we church members don't like to admit into our perfect little clique anyone that smells differently than we do. Do we enjoy that? Or anybody that has a radically different style of music than we have. They're not welcome here are they? Or even if they have a different theology or different mannerism. Have you ever thought how nice your church would be without the presence of so and so? Those are all bad thoughts. They're not good. Even Failures should be welcome here and in every Christian church, welcome to come in just as they are. They are urged to depart as Jesus wants them to be.
In these six cities of refuge we find one of the richest Old Testament pictures of Christ. They speak to us about Jesus. Let me read from Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 516 - (EG White). "These cities of refuge...were a symbol of the refuge provided in Christ." These six cities, I would submit to you, are symbols of Jesus Christ.
You're going to have to be tuned in and awake to get the message out of this. I want you to notice twelve similarities between Jesus (Any time I get a chance to preach Jesus, even in the Old Testament, this old preacher is going to preach Jesus.). Notice the rich Type-ology here. Jesus is the ultimate city of refuge.
1. Each city, like Jesus, was appointed in the wilderness long before it actually came into use. Appointed long before Israel ever reached the promised land. Our Heavenly Father appointed Jesus as the Savior long before the entrance of sin (1 Pet.1:20; Rev.13:8). Then, at the proper time, Christ our refuge came to this earth.
2. Each city, like Jesus, provided a shelter from certain death by the person entering into the city. The guilty man could only be saved by coming INTO the city.
Now, I want to talk about that before we go on to point number three. We have too many of these "periphery" Christians. Have you noticed people like that? They actually come to the city of refuge. They pitch their tent not in the city, but along the outside walls of the city. Out there! They never enter in. They are on the perimeter of the church. They are what you call "borderline Christians." They never really enter into Jesus. Hanging around with saints doesn't make you a Christian. You must hang around with Jesus. Unless you have personally entered into a saving relationship with Jesus, you are still a fugitive. The devil is still your fair game. You're going to succumb. No power can remove you from the designated place of safety, Jesus. Of course you could always choose to walk out any time you wanted to.
3. Each city, like Jesus, was easily found. Each was on a road with clear legible signs marked "REFUGE." Now, we have a nuclear power plant here in our area. There are well marked signs at every intersection showing the escape route if there were to be a bad accident. Israel did the same by putting up clear signs directing the way to safety. Who maintained these signs? God's people. The Gospel should be plainly preached by the church. By YOU!!
4. Each city, like Jesus, was always attainable. The gates of the cities of refuge were never to be locked. If you had run for thirty miles to get to the city, and you arrived in the middle of the night only to find the gates shut and locked, your life was in jeopardy. Even if you show up at midnight, you don't have to beat on the door and wake Jesus up, because he is watching and waiting for you. In fact instead of you knocking on His door He knocks on your door. Revelation 3:20 "I stand at the door and knock."
5. Each City, like Jesus, was lifted up. Each was built on high ground to be visible. Maybe you could see a flag flying. You could see it; you knew where it was. Just like Jesus was lifted up on cross to draw men to himself. John 12:32 "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
6. Each City, like Jesus, was easily accessible. Each city was located so that it could be reached within a half a day or less. Each was strategically located for easy access. Palestine is about the size of Maryland, so nobody had to run very far. In Deuteronomy 19:3 God says, "Build roads to them These were not narrow foot trails. Each highway was well maintained for easy access.
Scholars believe that bridges were built over every creek so the way was smooth and easy travel on. The gates were thrown wide open to freely admit the fleeing guilty man. The refuge was easily approachable. Just as our churches ought to be. Just as Jesus is.
7. Each City, like Jesus, provided Protection only for those who were willing to leave everything behind and enter fully into the secure shelter. Luke 18:28 Peter said to (Jesus), "We have left all we had to follow you!" You don't have a refugee running to a city of refuge with armloads of suitcases under his arms. You've got to shed everything and run for your life.
8. Each City, like Jesus, was the only place of safety. There was no other place you could go. If the killer didn't flee to the tabernacle or to the city of refuge, there was no other place of security. Acts 4:12 "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Jesus Christ, He's the only Savior there is.
9. Each City, like Jesus, could only protect those who were willing remain there. You must remain, you must abide in that city. Jesus said we must abide in Him. (John 15:4,7.) We must daily trust in Jesus, not just at conversion. Stay in the presence of Jesus. It is not enough for the sinner to believe in Christ. He must abide in Him. In Patriarchs and Prophets p. 517 - EG White.) it says, "It is not enough for the sinner to just believe in Jesus, he must abide in Him." 1 John 2:28 (KJV) "And now, little children, ABIDE IN HIM; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming."
10. Each City, like Jesus, was open to everybody. The Bible says, "Whosoever will." (See Mark 8:34) That's exactly what Jesus did. Available to Gentiles as well as Jews. Joshua 20:9 of the Israelites or any alien living among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to the designated cities... These cities were built not only for the Jew but for the aliens: for the children of Israel and strangers. Those cities are there for everybody. Anybody can come. That's what Jesus provides: salvation to everybody. Jesus says anyone who is weary and broken can come to him. Prostitutes, tax collectors, notorious sinners either Jew or Gentile, can be saved. Whosoever will may come and find asylum. The same protection and provision is for everybody. God's same amazing grace is free to all.
11. Each City, like Jesus, was more than ample. In other words, they were required to be stocked with provisions. They had food stuff there. They had extra clothing because they knew people were going to be arriving with very little. And they even had extra rooms, like a motel. They were expecting people and they were more than adequate to care for the people that came there. That's exactly like Jesus Christ is. Jesus is more than able to take care of us when we come to Him. When you come to Him. His grace os more than adequate to cover your sins. His forgiveness is more than adequate, more than adequate. 2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV) Paul said: ...I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that HE IS ABLE to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. Just like that strong city of refuge. Our God is more than able. He not only saves us, by His death but he also provides us continuing daily spiritual resources for as long as we remain in Him.
12. Each City, like Jesus, because it had a high priest in it. And who is our High Priest? Jesus. Only the death of the high priest was capable of actually liberating that person that had accidentally killed someone. His death would set the fugitive free. Only the death of Jesus gives us complete redemption.
What kind of place would a city of refuge be? Each was a Levite city with its own priest or minister.
I can Visualize myself as the pastor of this place. Maybe one day I am standing on top of the city wall and I see in the far distance a man running fast. He is zooming along zeroing in on my front gate. I know there is another accidental killer. He's gotten into trouble. He didn't intend to. Here he comes. Then I notice, hot on his heels is a group of yelling angry men running close behind the first man. They are all headed for my city gate. This may be a close one. Maybe I'll have to slam the gate. We're going to have to do something. And many times I may have seen when the runner did not make it to my city. I know the story so well. Some of the fugitives can't outrun their predators and are brutally killed just outside my city gates. If only they could have gotten here faster.
Of course, you know that the good news is that the Bible promises that whoever looks to Jesus in faith, will immediately find refuge. Isaiah 45:22 (KJV) "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth..." So if you look to Jesus you have protection, you've got instant protection right there.
Romans 6:23 warns us that the consequences of our sin is death. We are being pursued by the avenger of blood. "Satan, the great adversary, is on the track of every transgressor of God's holy law" God's appointed refuge is Jesus Christ. Because we are sinners on the run, we must quickly come to Jesus in order to be saved.
If I were the pastor in a city of refuge I would have to close or at least quickly post guards at the gate to shut out the pursuers lest there be a fight inside my church. I don't like church fighting.
If the Fugitive was found guilty of premeditated murder by a group of Elders from his neighborhood, then he would be extradited from my city of refuge and stoned to death. The family who had suffered loss would then be appeased.
But if it was found that the person had accidentally killed another he would he would be given the right of asylum. But because he was guilty of manslaughter he was required to stay in my town until I, the minister of the church there kicked the bucket and died. That could be an extremely long time. I can imagine that some folks kept a mental note of the age of different high priests in the near by cities of refuge thinking that if they ever need to run for their life, they will run to the one with the oldest parson.
I want to mention something else to you. I want you to look at the names of these cities. Come over to here to Joshua 20, and I want you to notice the names of these cities. Every city, the name of that city is something that Jesus provides for Christians. I didn't know this when I studied this. Joshua 20:7-9 Notice each City:
When I found this I just had to tell you about it. This is a beautiful window on the life of my Savior.
Isn't this awesome! Isn't Christ Jesus awesome! Jesus is the modern City of Refuge! In Jesus we have all of the things these cities could provide, and more. Christ is more than adequate to meet all our needs. Let's get this message of Jesus out to our friends and neighbors. Tell them there is a place of safety in a scary wicked world. Tell them about Jesus the Rock of Ages. Give them the true knowledge of Jesus. Tell them they can hide in Him. You need to be letting Him live out His strength, His life in you so that you can come out of the furnace room and stop hiding because you know Jesus will shelter you.
Hymn of Praise: #2, All Creatures of our God and King Scripture: Joshua 20: 7-9 Hymn of Response: #5252, Hiding in Thee 000909Gettys#482
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last updated 9/11/2000 by Bob Beckett.