By Henry Mahan
Deuteronomy 19:1-10; Joshua 20:1-6
The Lord gave to Israel clear instructions for dealing with thieves, criminals, and murderers. 'An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot' (Exo. 21:24). The scripture teaches that the punishment shall be according to the crime! If a person murders another in anger and malice, the murderer shall be put to death by proper authority. In many cases this would be by the near kinsman of the victim, called the avenger of blood (Deut. 19:6, 12).
However, suppose that two men go into the woods to cut wood; and while one is swinging his axe, the head of the axe comes off the handle and strikes his neighbor in the head, killing him. What is to be done? The killer had no hatred, no intention to kill, and no malice afore-thought.
The Lord instructed Israel to appoint six cities of refuge among the forty eight cities given to the Levites (three at the beginning and three as their borders were enlarged). The slayer who killed another accidentally and unwittingly could flee to one of these cities and state his case to the elders of that city. The elders were to take him in, give him a place to dwell among them; and when the avenger of blood came looking for him, they were not to deliver him into his hands. The slayer could abide in safety until his case was heard or until the death of the High Priest (Joshua 20:6). But if the slayer should leave the city of refuge and the avenger of blood find him and kill him, the avenger shall not be guilty (Num. 35:26-28).
The word refuge in the Hebrew means hope or safe habitation, and is commonly used to denote a place or a person to which we flee that we may be safe and secure from danger or death. 'The eternal God (in Christ) is our refuge' (Deut. 33:27).
Christ is the refuge for guilty sinners (Psalm 62:6-8; Heb. 6:18). 'Other refuge have I none: hangs my helpless soul on thee.
Leave, ah, leave me not alone: still support and comfort me.
Hide me, 0 my Saviour hide, till the storm of life is past; Safe into the haven guide, 0 receive my soul at last.' C. Wesley
There are so many ways in which these cities of refuge are a type of Christ, our refuge.
1. The cites of refuge were appointed by God.
By God's decree, will, and word, these cities provided for the safety and security of those who fled to them.
It is by God's appointment and divine will that Jesus Christ, his well beloved and only begotten Son, became our surety (Heb. 7:22), our High Priest (Heb. 5:5), our righteousness (Jer. 23:5-6), our Redeemer (Gal. 4:4-5), and our Saviour (John 3:16- 17).
2. The cities of refuge were to be located so that one could flee to a refuge without difficulty.
They were to be easily found, with signs pointing along the way, and the highway to these cities was to be kept clear of obstructions.
Christ, our refuge, is not far from any of us (Acts 17:24-28; Rom. 10:6-10). The guilty have but to look and believe. The word of God is the clear sign which points us to Christ (Rom. 10:17; John 5:24). The preachers of the gospel are to keep the way clear of stumbling-blocks and obstructions by preaching Christ (1 Cor. 1:17; 2 Cor. 11:3-4).
3. The man-slayer was to flee immediately to the city of refuge--to delay was foolish.
Even so, those who would find refuge from the curse and condemnation of the law must run to Christ now (2 Cor. 6:2).
4. The man-slayer must be within the city to be safe.
Knowing about the city or standing near to the city was not to be saved; he must be in the city. Those who would find refuge in Christ must by faith dwell in Christ (John 15:5-6; Eph. 1:6). To know about Christ, to profess to know Christ, or even to admire Christ is not to be saved. Believers, like the man-slayer of old, leave all behind and gladly lie in the bosom of the Redeemer, casting all their cares upon him and resting in his sufficient grace (1 Cor. 1:30).
5. The man-slayer must remain in the city.
To leave meant death (Num. 35:26-27). Believers will and must continue in faith (Col. 1:21-23). To deny Christ or to depart from Christ is to perish (Heb. 10:38-39).
6. Those who got into the city of refuge before the avenger of blood overtook them were completely safe and delivered from death (Joshua 20:9).
All who come to God by the righteousness, blood, and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, before death and wrath overtake them, are forever saved and freed from all condemnation (Rom. 8:1; John 5:24).
7. There are ways in which the type breaks down as a picture of Christ.
There were six cities of refuge. There is only one Redeemer (John 14:6).
These cities protected only from physical death. Our Lord Jesus delivers us from spiritual and eternal death.
These cities required physical exertion and running to reach them. No physical move, effort, nor deed is necessary to come to Christ--only heart faith. 'Look unto me and be ye saved.'
These cities were only for those who by accident or chance killed someone; but Christ, our Lord, is the refuge and Redeemer of willful murderers, adulterers, thieves, and the chief of sinners. He died for the ungodly and welcomes all sinners to come to him for refuge.