The Land (10). Cities of Refuge

We sung Psalm 27:1-5 (note where David ran for refuge)

This morning we covered Joshua 20 which outlines the six cities of refuge, three to west of River Jordan (Kadesh, Shechem and Hebron) and three to the east namely Golan, Ramoth Gilead and Bezer (KASH and GRAB mnemonic!). The laws of Exodus 21:12-14, Numbers 35,  Deut. 4:41-43 (first three cities) and Deut. 19:1-13 (examples of manslaughter and the just cause of capital punishment) are re-iterated. Note the conjunction of Levitical cities and cities of refuge in the Numbers chapter. The need for them was to differentiate the two major causes of homicide whether deliberate murder or accidental manslaughter. The first mandated the death penalty but the second did not.

The need for these places was an ingrained fallen “tribal” idea of revenge prevalent then and still today in many Islamic or backward nations in which a near relative would seek to kill the person who had killed their relative. The second three cities are named in Joshua 20:7-9 and note the foreign sojourner is included fairly in the legislation. The one fleeing had to stay in the city of refuge till the case was heard or the high priest died (v4) which could be years!

Related instances are seen in the cases of Adonijah and Joab (I Kings 1:50-53 and I Kings 2:29) who both fled to the horns of the altar in the tabernacle, the first allowed to live and the second put to death as he had murdered two men namely Abner and Amasa (I Kings 2:31-33) and II Samuel 3:27 and 14. In the middle ages churches were often used as sanctuary by those being pursued.

Today these laws are abrogated because there is no high priest, the church is universal and the Old Testament ceremonial and societal ordinances are nailed to the cross of Christ.

King David very often speaks of God and his dwelling place as his refuge or the refuge of others in need see II Sam.22:3, Ps.14:6, 46:1, 57:1, 59:16, 62:7-8, 71:7,91:2, 94:22, 142:5. Often this was literal as God providentially shielded him from his earthly enemies like Saul, but also true of him and us, as we seek help against our spiritual enemies namely the hostile world, our own flesh and Satan.

Contrast our hiding in God and the wicked reprobate who cannot stand in God’s presence (Ps.5:5).

The cities of refuge point to the great refuge of all God’s people namely Christ (Heb. 6:18) to whom we flee, having been guilty of murder (hatred) and many more sins besides, for refuge from the wrath of God where we hide in the cleft of the rock who is Jesus Christ.

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