Yesterday morning, one of our ministers preached on the subject of refuge. Before the children of Israel entered the promised land, God gave them detailed instructions for establishing cities of refuge. They were to be located throughout the land in such a manner that no one would be more than a half day’s journey from a city of refuge.
The purpose was that if anyone caused the death of someone else accidentally and unintentionally, he could flee from the avenger and find safety. It was part of the law that a family member of the person killed could and should avenge the death of the one slain. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth and death for death, that was the Old Testament law; I’m sure it exercised a powerful dissuasion on most people. But in a case where the death was not intentional, it would have been contrary to justice to avenge that death upon a person who was in reality innocent.
Despite his innocence, the one who had caused the death of another was only safe within the confines of the city of refuge. If he ever strayed beyond those bounds, he was fair game for the avenger. The person who caused the death of another could not return to his home until the high priest died.
The protection of the cities of refuge was not only for the children of Israel. Numbers 35:15 says: “These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.”
There was even a measure of mercy in the law about the avenger of blood. In other societies of that era, the death of a member of a clan might very well lead to all out clan warfare and the deaths of many more. The law of Israel limited the vengeance to the one who had killed. Once that was done, justice had been accomplished and there would be no ongoing feud between clans. The city of refuge went beyond that and was a wonderful example of hope and mercy in a time of harsh and immediate justice.
Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we . . . might have hope (Romans 15:4). All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11 ).
What then are we to draw from this example for our benefit today? The New Testament tells us that we are all guilty and worthy of the most severe judgement. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ). “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore we are all guilty, is there yet a place of refuge for us in our day?
Hebrews chapter six reveals that the mercy of God has now provided a refuge for the guilty. “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18). Reading further in the chapter, we see that Jesus Christ is that refuge and that he is called a high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. That is, He has once died to set us free, now He lives forever to be a permanent refuge for all the sinners who will flee to Him.
Saturday I had a conversation with a brother that I believe ties into the theme of refuge. He was talking about people who had lived in iron curtain countries. They recounted how their children had to go to the public schools where they were subjected to atheist propaganda day after day. Therefore the parents, day after day after their children came home from school, taught diligently from the Bible the Christian way. All of their children chose the Christian way, rather than the way of atheism.
Then they came to America, where there was no more persecution. And the children raised in America chose the way of the world. There is a lesson there for all of us. Our supposedly free nations are not a refuge for us from the attacks of our spiritual enemy. It is not time for parents to relax their teaching program and assume all will be well. We need the same single-minded fervency as those parents had when living under Communist rule. This vile world, however friendly it may seem, is not a friend to grace, nor a refuge from Satan.